Oscars and Movies and Targeting Millennials — Michelle McCue comments

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The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced – to widespread chagrin– that the press and publicists would no longer be a part of the annual tradition of being at AMPAS headquarters in Beverly Hills at the Samuel Goldwyn theater when the Oscar nominations are revealed on January 24.

A Beloved Tradition is Gone

Soon afterwards, Kris Tapley proposed in his Variety article, “Why not announce the nominees in primetime?” Tapley writes, “however, for the Academy, this could — or at least should — be the first step toward something bigger. The Oscar nominations announcement has been a missed revenue opportunity for quite some time. What is keeping it from being a primetime special like the Grammys or professional sports drafts, heavily promoted, hosted, and with advertising (non-endemic, probably) sold against it?” He added what many of the press and publicists felt, “For now, though, a beloved tradition is gone.”

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What Does This Herald for the Oscars?

It’s less about how the nominations are announced and more about the Oscars themselves. The show is unfortunately no longer relevant to pop culture and it’s going the way of the dinosaur.

Film fans suffer from award show fatigue. In addition to the various critics’ awards handed out, there are simply too many now. Many view it as a “pat on the back.” Some would say the Oscars have lost their glamour. With the “who are you wearing?” red carpet filled with nominees and movie stars, many TV viewers just turn to the channel once the actual show begins.

Anyone watching the Oscars typically is 40+ and has witnessed how the TV landscape has drastically changed since the glory days of the Oscars. There is no longer that water-cooler moment the day after. The prime demographic that advertisers are going for (18-49) don’t give the show a second thought. When asked if they would watch the Academy Awards, college students as a whole said an unequivocal “No”.

Who’s Going to the Theater?

Everyone loves to watch a movie but going to a theater is almost a thing of the past. Most teenagers and the millennials would prefer to watch movies at home, on their computers or on the phone. But that’s where their movie involvement ends. Past that, and sitting through a long awards show, it’s not even in the realm of possibility.

The advent of social media has made a huge impact on the way TV and movies are watched as a whole. The social norm is to instantly share on every platform the movie in real-time right in the cinema. Last year AMC Theaters proposed a cell phone/texting friendly environment.

In a Variety interview published in 2016, Adam Aron, head of AMC Entertainment was asked whether appealing to millennials would involve allowing texting or cellphone use? His response: “Yes. When you tell a 22-year-old to turn off the phone, don’t ruin the movie, they hear please cut off your left arm above the elbow. You can’t tell a 22-year-old to turn off their cellphone. That’s not how they live their life.”

“At the same time,” Aron said, “we’re going to have to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t disturb today’s audiences. There’s a reason there are ads up there saying turn off your phone, because today’s moviegoer doesn’t want somebody sitting next to them texting or having their phone on.”

When asked whether a special section for texting would solve the problem, Adam Aron responded, “That’s one possibility. What may be more likely is we take specific auditoriums and make them more texting friendly.”

Aron’s statement prompted such a backlash, that AMC rescinded it: “With your advice in hand, there will be NO TEXTING ALLOWED in any of the auditoriums at AMC Theatres. Not today, not tomorrow and not in the foreseeable future.”

Not helping are the ticket prices, which are too high, making it almost impossible for teens and young adults to go. It’s not worth the price if other customers ruin the high-priced experience by talking or being rude. That attitude trickles down, hurting the industry and the Oscars.

A Host of Declining Ratings

With declining ratings each year, albeit a bump here and there depending on the host, as well as the political climate, what course can the Academy take? Do the Oscars become the People’s Choice Awards? Do they add a category that the public decides on, much like the BAFTA’s “Rising Star” award where “the public votes to honor a young actor or actress who has demonstrated exceptional talent and ambition and has begun to capture the imagination of the British public?”

Advertisers concerned with ratings for the Oscars have to consider whether the show is worth the high cost of buying time.

Fortune took a look at the ratings:

  • The 88th Academy Awards broadcast pulled in the award show’s lowest overnight ratings since 2008.
  • Oscars 2016, which aired on Walt Disney’s (DIS) ABC network, averaged a 23.1 rating in metered markets. That represents a 6% dip from the already low ratings the show turned in last year, according to ratings tracker Nielsen.
  • In the markets tracked by Nielsen, the Academy Awards –which was hosted by comedian Chris Rock–earned a 37% share of households watching television during the show’s airtime last night. Rock previously hosted the Oscars in 2005, at which point the broadcast pulled in 42.1 million viewers, which is more than any Oscars that have aired since, except for the 43.7 million who watched Ellen Degeneres’ 2014 turn as host.
  • In the important demographic of adults aged 18 to 49, Rock’s hosting gig on Sunday night earned an overnight metered market rating of 13.5, which was down 5% from last year, meaning that a lower percentage of young people watched this year’s broadcast.

More importantly, Fortune’s article also added, “Last night’s low ratings could end up being a major disappointment for department store operator Kohl’s (KSS), which this year replaced rival J.C. Penney (JCP) as the sole retail sponsor for the Academy Awards broadcast. Kohl’s spent big to roll out a new series of Oscars-themed commercials that aired during the award show’s commercial breaks and featured lip-synced versions of famous Oscars acceptance speeches from years past.”

What can the Academy Learn From History?

When the first Academy Awards were presented at a banquet dinner at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1929, the Oscars were all about connecting the public to the movies the studios rolled out.

As the decades went by and as the Oscars evolved, the general public knew the movies that were nominated. Even through 1981, when such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark received nine nominations including Best Picture, or 1982 when E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial saw nine nominations including Best Picture. 50 years ago Star Wars (1977) was nominated for Best Picture, against the likes of Annie Hall, Julia, The Goodbye Girl and The Turning Pointm and went onto win six.

Now those films, even if they’re nominated for several below-the-line, technical awards, wouldn’t even be fathomable as nominees for Best Picture now. Can you imagine Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, nominated for the big prize? Not in a million years. That’s how drastically the game has changed. Therein lies the rub. A summer blockbuster such as Jaws won three Academy Awards for Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound, as well as being nominated for Best Picture. That was standard operating procedure in the Oscars heyday – it should be so again.

AMPAS could do itself a HUGE favor as it did when the juggernaut Titanic was nominated and do the same for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The film is just shy of a $1 billion at the global box office ($979,950,734), people have been back to the theaters to see it two and three times. People will watch the Oscars if this crowd-pleaser sees a Best Picture nod.

Could it be that it’s time to return to hosts on a par with TV personalities like Johnny Carson and Bob Hope, who knew how to play to the audience? Having Jimmy Kimmel as the host of the 89th telecast is a move in the right direction and it’s certainly time to think outside the proverbial box when trying to attract younger viewers. Not that it’ll work, but more mainstream movies nominated, the ones we already root for, the ones the regular movie-going Joe goes to see and make box office hits, would reasonably bring the much needed audience, and millennials, back to the TV to watch Hollywood’s Big Night.

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