Academy Awards
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Host Jimmy Kimmel speaks onstage during the 2018 Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, the US. The coronavirus pandemic is taking its toll on lovers of the Oscars as viewers lose interest and ratings continue to slide. Photo: Getty Images

Oscar fatigue: pandemic hastens ratings slide for Golden Globes – will Academy Awards show suffer the same fate?

  • Before the Covid-19 pandemic began, the Oscars show had its smallest audience ever, and the fall in viewership of awards ceremonies has continued since then
  • The rise of streaming services that let people watch films at home did much of the damage long before the health emergency shut cinemas

George Bradley used to love watching the Academy Awards. The 28-year-old Briton now living in San Diego, California, would stay up late back home just to tune in. Though he’s now in the right time zone, he’s just not interested, and that is due primarily to the pandemic.

“The rising dominance of the streaming services has taken the gloss off the Oscars for me,” he said. “You just don’t get the same warm fuzzy feeling from when you recognise a movie from the silver screen.”

Whether you watch out of love, because you love to hate, or have given up like Bradley, awards shows have suffered since the coronavirus closed cinemas and shut down live performances. But the ratings slide for awards nights began well before Covid-19 took over.

For much of this century, the Oscars drew 35 million to 45 million viewers, often just behind the Super Bowl. Last year, just before the pandemic was declared, the hostless telecast on ABC was seen by its smallest audience ever, 23.6 million viewers, down 20 per cent from the year before.

Photographers cover the red carpet arrivals for the 85th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California. Photo: Getty Images
The pandemic-era Golden Globes a little more than a year later plummeted to 6.9 million viewers, down 64 per cent from last year and barely besting 2008, the year a writer’s strike forced NBC to air a news conference announcing winners. Last year, pre-lockdown, the show had 18.4 million viewers, according to the Nielsen company.

In March, Grammy producers avoided the Zoom awkwardness of other awards shows and staged performances by some of the industry’s biggest stars – to no avail. The CBS telecast reached 9.2 million viewers, both television and streaming, the lowest number on record and a 51 per cent drop from 2020, Nielsen said.

John Bennardo, 52, in Boca Raton, Florida, is a film buff, film school graduate and screenwriter, and runs a videography business for mostly corporate clients. This year is a no-go for the Oscars.

“I love the films and aspire to be on that very Oscars stage receiving my own award some day,” he said. “I watch each year and take it in, enter contests where I try to pick winners and try to see all the films. But something has changed for this year.”

For starters, he hasn’t seen a single film nominated in any category. “Maybe I’ll watch Zach Snyder’s Justice League instead. It might be shorter,” Bennardo joked about the Oscars show. Like other awards shows, the Oscars telecast was pushed back due to pandemic restrictions and safety concerns.

Emma Stone accepts the best actress award during the 89th Academy Awards in 2017. Photo: Getty Images

The show had been postponed three times before in history, but never so far in advance. Organisers last June scheduled it for April 25, as opposed to its usual slot in February or early March.

Count that among other driving forces behind Oscars fatigue. Another, according to former fans of the show, is having to watch nominated films on small screens and keeping up with when and where they are available on streaming and on-demand services. It’s been one big blur to some.

Hong Kong has a special interest in this year’s edition. Better Days, directed by Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung, is up for the International Feature Film award, while one of the contenders for best documentary (short subject) is Anders Hammer’s Do Not Split – a piece on the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

Trial of Chicago 7, Chadwick Boseman score SAG wins ahead of Oscars

However, for the first time in more than 50 years, Hong Kong terrestrial broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) will not be relaying the Oscars telecast.

The station maintained the decision was “purely commercial”, although it came after the Chinese government had told media in mainland China not to broadcast the awards ceremony following the nomination of Anders’ work and after attention was drawn to past remarks critical of China made by Beijing-born director Chloé Zhao, who is nominated in the best director category for the US-based drama Nomadland, a front-runner for best picture.

Zhou Dongyu in a still from Better Days. The movie is up for the International Feature Film award at this year’s Academy Awards.

With many potential viewers facing hardship because of the pandemic, awards shows offer less escapism and razzle-dazzle than in the past. In addition, data shows little interest among younger generations for appointment television in general.

Lifelong lover of films and a filmmaker himself, 22-year-old Pierre Subeh of Orlando, Florida, stopped watching the Oscars in 2019.

“We can barely stay put for a 15-second TikTok. How are we expected to sit through a dragged-out, four-hour awards ceremony filled with ads and outdated offensive jokes? We’re living in the time of content curation. We need algorithms to figure out what we want to watch and to show us the best of the best,” he said.

This year, if I missed it, it wouldn’t be tragic. Nobody would need to lay cable this year. But I still love the films
Deb Madison, movie lover

As a Muslim, Middle Eastern immigrant, Subeh also sees little inclusion of his culture in mainstream film, let alone on the Oscars stage.

“We’re only mentioned when Aladdin is brought up. I don’t feel motivated to gather up my family on a Sunday to sit through a four-hour award ceremony that never has any sort of mention about our culture and religion. Yet as Muslims, we make up roughly 25 per cent of the world population,” he said.

Deb Madison, 65, on the other hand, plans to catch the Oscars, as she has since she was a kid and her mom first took her to the films.

For the first time in more than 50 years, Hong Kong terrestrial broadcaster Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) will not be relaying the Oscars telecast. Photo: Getty Images

She says: “I’m a sucker for the red carpet and the gowns and, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe she wore that.’ Another thing is, I don’t particularly need to see these actors in their home environments.

“This year, if I missed it, it wouldn’t be tragic. Nobody would need to lay cable this year. But I still love the films.”