Why No One Cares About the Oscars Anymore – 2016

Not even marketing could have saved this year’s Academy Awards from being the 3rd lowest-rated broadcast in history.

Nielsen reported that the 88th Academy Awards averaged 34.3 million viewers during its telecast. What happened to the Oscars being one of the biggest international television viewing events? Let’s see if the last 8 years of slumping television ratings ever happened before in Oscar history.

Remember when 3-D glasses came back around 2008 and Hollywood was trying to make it a thing?

History Repeating: Television Surpassing Movies

 In the early 1950’s, Hollywood was facing it’s greatest enemy to date- television. As television sales around the United States went up, movie ticket sales went down. (Source: Stars-Are-Ageless)

Television and Movies are unique partners in the same game: the entertainment business. What we’ve been witnessing in the last decade or so is the surpassing of television over movies, as the more vibrant and successful segment of the entertainment business. In the race for audience, television has adapted and caught up with the times. Realizing that you sometimes have to follow your audience, television’s measure for success changed over the course of the online streaming and DVR “revolution.”

When the Tent-Pole Movie Strategy Took Over

Ever since the record-breaking box office success of Titanic (1997) ($658.7 million worldwide) Hollywood clung to the tent-pole strategy like a lifesaver to stave off decline and keep up the appearance of success.

Titanic arrived just as Hollywood’s profit-centre was switching from US domestic to the overseas market. (Source: The Guardian)

Did you know it took 18 years for a movie to beat Titanic‘s long-held global box-office record? Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) was the movie to beat it. As of January 1st, 2016 (a Friday) The Force Awakens had brought in $686.4 million worldwide. Marketing surely helped both Titanic and The Force Awakens, that’s not even a question (see recommended reading below for more details). How these two juggernaut films made history and achieved their mantels of success rested on taking risks and going all the way with it.

Titanic was a big risk (romance set aboard a sinking ship in 1912), Star Wars was a big risk as well (Disney bought LuacsFilm Ltd., LLC for $4 Billion to revive a story universe that had its hay-day in the late 1970s and 1980s). Both films were all about risk and embracing the chaos surrounding them, something Hollywood should do more of.

titanic_a_0
Leonardo Dicaprio and Billy Zane in Titanic (Credit: Paramount Pictures, 1997)

The Movie Industry’s Problem

The problem with a tent-pole focused business strategy, smaller movies have little chance to share in the wealth. Tent-pole movies almost always earn more than smaller movie projects because they have more support behind them :

Through Christmas weekend, the top ten films in 2015 accounted for nearly 35% of overall ticket sales. (Source: Variety)

Year over year since Titanic the statistic above has continued to increase and shows no signs of changing. Tent-pole movies are how the movie industry stays afloat. The problem is, movies aren’t the events they used to be. Going to the movies has lost that magic it once held. Movies aren’t driving in audiences like they used to (but surely the cost of tickets has tried to make up for that).

Smaller movies really are passion projects these days. Indie films are a hard way to make a living; with not enough budget to market well, they rarely make back their return. Renting has proved to be helpful for indies, but it’s the long way of making a little extra revenue.

How Television Beat the Movie Industry

What independent film makers realized somewhere in the last 10 years was “why not go to television with our stories instead?” As filmmakers moved over to television, other members of the movie industry followed suit. Television has drawn a noticeably large amount of talents from the movie industry over the past 10 years.

In the race to win audience attention and spending, television has won by being where the smaller stories or less “universally sellable” stories can go and be made. It would seem that television listens to what audiences want and can adapt faster. TV has a fluidity about it and execs understood the power of making programming available for streaming and subscribing on multiple mediums (smartphone, Netflix, Hulu, desktop, etc.).

The movie industry is playing around with streaming, making some movies in theaters available for streaming in people’s homes (such as through iTunes store). With 3 major shootings in U.S. movie theaters in the last 4 years alone, the movie industry really needed to consider streaming more seriously as an alternative for people who lost trust in going out to the movies. Still, the movie industry hasn’t arrived to a place where it feels safe taking the risks investing in less “market research safe” movies in a bigger way yet.

Marketing can help in winning audience, but ultimately its whether the story you have to tell is of interest to the general public.

RECOMMENDED READING

Oscars: How Many People Watch the Ceremony Worldwide?

10 reasons why today’s TV is better than movies

New York Times 1998 piece on the marketing of Titanic 

Forbes piece on ‘How ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Ran a Great Marketing Campaign’

How an ‘Unsinkable’ Marketing Campaign Led to the Real Titanic’s  Disaster

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