Side Note

The 2019 Oscars are desperate to attract viewers

The Oscars just aren’t as popular as they used to be. Ratings for this year’s show were the show’s lowest ever, following a trend of declining viewership for all of the major entertainment industry award shows. The Academy’s Tuesday announcement of changes to future shows, beginning with the 91st Oscars on February 24, 2019, is its latest flailing attempt to attract viewers.

In a letter to Academy members, Academy Board of Governors President John Bailey wrote that the show will now be three hours long, “delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.” (Anyone who still watches the Oscars will remember that this year’s show was nearly four hours long.) Additionally, the Oscars will now include a category for “outstanding achievement in popular film.” Details are still unavailable as to what exactly that category will be — future Oscars winner Avengers: Infinity War? — but it is a transparent effort to get millions of people to tune in to see an award go to a film they already know and love, tapping into the established fan bases lacked by the types of critically-acclaimed films typically rewarded by the Oscars. (Notably, 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight was one of the lowest-grossing films to ever score the top award.)

For years, the Oscars’ declining popularity has been attributed to the Academy’s bias against popular films, the most noteworthy example being its 2008 snub of massively popular and critically acclaimed The Dark Knight. It responded by expanding the number of films nominated for the prestigious Best Picture award — a change that’s failed to pay off in more viewers. In an effort to regain some relevance and address the widespread criticism of the Academy’s overwhelming whiteness, it also invited more women and people of color to become members this year. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if these changes can make more people care to watch the Oscars again, especially with fewer and fewer people tethered to traditional pay TV platforms.