If you’ve paid attention to the buzz surrounding award shows recently, it’s most likely been due to scandals like the #MeToo movement or Oscar host controversies. Odds are you’ll spend more time hearing about these events than actually viewing award shows like the Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes in their entirety.
Are award shows as relevant as they once were? There are three core issues that threaten their cultural relevance.
The first issue stems from the entertainment audiences’ departure from the traditional medium of television. As a society, we’ve migrated towards dozens of other technologies that are less rigid and far more bite-sized in their delivery of entertainment than traditional T.V.
T.V. operates on the logic of themed channels with alternating shows and ads. This consumer model has been disrupted by the advent of ad-free streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and AmazonPrime Video, which are being watched on more portable devices like smartphones and tablets. The fact that award shows have not been made available on these sites and are not always easily streamed via a quick Google search has really damaged their accessibility. T.V. syndicates have relegated award shows to being viewed on traditional television or being streamed on official websites the one night of the show — a condemning limitation that restricts award shows from reaching today’s tech-obsessed generation.
In addition to digitalization, there’s also a tremendously wider range of entertainment options today than there were almost 50 years ago, when the Academy Awards saw a peak rating of 43 million viewers — a figure it has yet to top or come close to achieving in recent years.
Perhaps the most serious issue underlying the decline of award shows is the failure to adapt to wider cultural and attitudinal shifts in society.
Award shows compete with streaming services and pirated content online, but the phenomenon of bite-sized media like Snapchats, Instagram stories, and Tweets add a further wrench into the mix. Social media platforms present entertainment geared towards the attention-deficit world of today; the most complex of news stories have to be summarized in the space of a 140-character tweet or a 30-second snap-story in order to catch people’s fleeting attention. Many also simply watch clips rehashing the “top moments” and winners on Youtube, further contributing to decreased viewership.
The last and perhaps most serious issue underlying the decline of award shows is the failure to adapt to wider cultural and attitudinal shifts in society. For example, abusive Hollywood personalities like Harvey Weinstein and Woody Allen were celebrated figures at award shows until the #MeToo movement aggressively called for their denouncement. The fact that abuse had been ignored by Hollywood for decades seriously damaged the credibility and public image of award shows in recent years.
Recent attempts to modernize have also gone awry — Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting the 2018 Oscars after being pressured to re-apologize for decade-old homophobic Tweets he had previously addressed and apologized for. Backlash came from both sides: some applauded the Oscars for addressing his problematic statements, while others saw it as racial prejudice that held Hart to higher politically-correct standards than comedians like Amy Schumer (who has made similarly controversial statements for which she was not made to apologize).
In any case, it’s clear that being embroiled in controversy has become a norm for these Hollywood spectacles. Combined with issues around digitalization and choice overload, the future of award shows are in trouble if they don’t make greater efforts to remain relevant.