The 2021 Oscars: 10 Reasons Why Ratings Plunged

News Analysis
Last week’s telecast of the 93rd annual Academy Awards on ABC was the lowest-rated in the event’s history, capturing roughly 10 million viewers as opposed to last year’s telecast which netted nearly 24 million. Network executives expected a decline, but certainly not of this magnitude.

The sharp decrease has prompted fears that awards shows in general could be a genre that’s finally passed its time. The Grammys and Golden Globes shows also took a ratings hit this year.

I’m sure that some will say the dismal Academy Awards ratings were triggered by one single reason or another, like politics or pandemic malaise. That might serve their political or business interests, but such a dramatic shift in behavior is rarely caused by one thing. It’s usually a perfect storm of events that combine to create the drastic change.

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With that in mind, I have compiled 10 reasons that I believe can be attributed to the ratings plunge.

1. Depressing Best Picture nominees.
The Best Picture nominees featured a drunk writer, an unemployed nomad, a cranky father afflicted with dementia, political protesters, a musician going deaf, and a sexual assault victim, among other characters whose lives are beyond bleak. This is not to suggest the films are bad — several are quite good, in fact — but a pandemic-weary nation could have used something with a little cheer.

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2. No host.
The Academy again decided against using a single person as host, a mistake I suspect will be corrected next year. A popular personality as host can help attract viewers.

3. Sick of Covid.
While show producers courageously attempted to make the telecast as free of Covid restrictions as possible, it felt like everyone was walking on eggshells. Which they were. But it probably didn’t matter. Many people likely decided not to watch thinking it would largely be a Zoom event as other recent awards show were.

4. Sick of politics.
When Regina King opened the show with a heartfelt speech about the George Floyd police brutality case in Minnesota, she basically invited a portion of the audience to switch the channel. No, sorry, she actually did invite them.

“I know that a lot of you people at home want to reach for your remote,” she said.

Regardless of your party and position, it’s hard to deny there’s a segment of the population that’s weary of politics, particularly when it becomes the centerpiece of an entertainment or sporting event. And there’s no doubt that Republicans are most likely to recoil if politics is discussed during such a broadcast. This may not feel right to you, but it’s a reality. And when you’re looking at a huge ratings drop, you have to accept that King and others who brought up political issues likely turned some people off, even if they were well-intentioned in their remarks.

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5. Abundance of viewing alternatives.
Netflix. Disney+. HBO Max. Peacock. Paramount+. The 500-channel cable universe. Etc. Etc. Etc. Americans have never had so many quality viewing alternatives. For many people, watching a new show on Netflix likely sounded like more fun than watching a three-hour Oscar broadcast.

6. Cord cutting.
The ratings for all broadcast networks are down these days thanks to cord-cutting and streaming. This is a no-brainer contributor.

7. No movie stars.
When the Oscars were watched by 40 million viewers instead of 10 million, many people tuned in to see what the biggest stars would wear, or do. But here were the award presenters at Sunday’s event:

Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Brad Pitt, Joaquin Phoenix, Laura Dern, Renee Zellweger, Bryan Cranston, Harrison Ford, Regina King, Marlee Matlin, Rita Moreno, Reese Witherspoon, Zendaya, and Bong Joon-ho.

With the exception of Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt, that’s not much star power there. Talented people, yes, but not stars. And don’t get me started on Joaquin Phoenix.

8. Nice weather on April 25.
The Oscars are traditionally held in late February or early March, but the Academy moved it to late April due to pandemic reasons. But in many parts of the country, the weather was beautiful Sunday evening, giving some viewers cause to be outdoors rather than at home, particularly on the West Coast.

9. Unknown nominees.
Again, viewers once tuned in to watch Jack Nicholson battle it out with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro for Best Actor, or Jane Fonda take on Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine for Best Actress. On Sunday night, they got Riz Ahmed against Steven Yeun (among others) for Best Actor and Frances McDormand up against Vanessa Kirby for Best Actress. (All exceptionally talented people, but do you think most people know who they are?) The only real ‘name’ battle was between Anthony Hopkins and Chadwick Boseman in the Best Actor category. But I told you to not get me started on Joaquin Phoenix.

10. Awards shows are passé.
This might be the one reason that the Academy and ABC can’t change, no matter what they do differently in 2022. Just because scores of millions used to watch the Oscars doesn’t mean that scores of millions will ever do so again. Ratings for all awards shows are in rapid decline, and it may not just be cord-cutting. Viewers may simply be bored with them. (There are also too many of them, but that’s reason number 11 and I promised to stick with 10.)

Do you have some reasons why the Oscars fared so poorly? Include them in the comment section below.

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