Existing as it traditionally has on broadcast television, the Oscars saw some major evolution this year with greater adoption of the online model. Now also available on systems like Hulu, YouTube, Sling, and Fubo, the 2021 Oscars changed what has long been an established standard. On a wider level, this change from the Academy Awards is just one part of a much larger digitalization process, and this process is set to become the rule rather than the exception.
The New Oscars
Taking such a reach for the 2021 Academy Awards was not a decision that was made lightly, as threats to ratings raised the need for serious change. The 2021 Oscars were already delayed due to last year’s complicated release schedules, and this year’s ceremony also lacked a central host. In fact, the latest Oscars were only the second time in 30 years that Hollywood’s biggest event has gone hostless.
While this wasn’t the first time that the Oscars have been viewable online, 2021’s attention placed on online availability was far above any former attempts. The hope was, like so many other forms of media, a greater level of accessibility would help draw in more viewers. It was a bold move, though one which was not as easy as the developers thought.
The final results of the 2021 Academy Awards include the lowest ratings that have ever been seen. With only 9.85 million viewers, these numbers were 58% down on even 2020, which formerly held the record for the all-time low. For context, the average NFL broadcast in 2021 averaged 15 million viewers, making this performance undoubtedly worrying for event’s producers. That said, other award shows like the Grammy’s and Golden Globes have also significantly decreased in popularity in the last couple of years, so it’s not as if the Academy Awards are an outlier.
A Move Towards Digitalisation
Of all the different forms of media which have made moves into the digital realm, the most relatable to the Academy Awards would have to be found in movie streaming. As a system of access, online movies in the mainstream have been popular ever since Netflix made the move to streaming in early 2007. However, this functioned in much the same way as a traditional video rental service like blockbuster would, releasing cinema movies months after they initially launched.
The first major exception to this rule came about when Netflix started its own original programming business in 2009. As the business grew, the movies on this system became better in quality, eventually coming close to or matching traditional cinema releases. As far as this system had come, everything changed in 2020 when an increasing number of blockbuster films like Wonder Woman 1984 saw simultaneous releases in theatre and on streaming services.
Running parallel to online systems of movies was the world of music. Formerly relegated to CDs and cassettes before that, the development of Spotify in 2006 took the industry by storm. Aided by the MP3 format, Spotify and similar online music rental and purchasing systems broke down the former walls of access that existed with physical media. Without the requirement of bulky CD wallets, the limitations of earlier generations were decimated, leaving a singular form of access that eventually became the default.
On a more cooperative level, similar industry-wide changes could be found in online casinos. Starting much earlier than their movie counterparts, in 1996, online casinos again illustrated a level of convenience that physical systems couldn’t match. With additional benefits like no deposit bonus codes, unmatched variety, and access from any system with a modern browser, online casinos changed the world for avid players. Unlike with video and music, however, they didn’t reduce the existing incarnations of the industry, they worked alongside it. Now, you now find a competitive and healthy industry, one which can offer incentives to bring in new players.
The final most illustrative example of profound digital change could be found in traditional video games. As with movies, games used to rely on physical gaming outlets to sell units. When broadband became popular around the start of the new millennium, digital purchases began to take the reins. Giving players the ability to avoid the travel time and wait which physical stores implied, alongside the possibility for better prices, online video game stores like Steam changed the industry completely. Now far larger than their offline cousins, online stores usurped the gaming sales crown.
Building an Audience
One of the most pronounced connecting factors to these other types of media is that of time, and this is where the Oscars initially failed. Whether looking at movies, music, casino titles, or video games, each of these other forms of media took well over a decade to reach ubiquity.
Though it’s true that the Oscars exist as a subset of visual media and could therefore borrow from existing growth, the Academy Awards in themselves have little prior momentum. This created what was a historic downturn for the 2021 Oscars, but this downturn could also illustrate the growing pains of the industry’s next step. While it might take until next year to see the downstream effects, we’d caution against writing the Academy Awards off just yet. It’s a long path ahead, but the road is cleared, and next year the ceremonies should better understand what to expect.