Did you watch the Oscars this past Sunday?
For a lot of people that answer is probably “no”. In fact, that is the answer for more people than for any Academy Awards broadcast in the last nine years.
The 32.9million viewers tuning into Sunday’s Academy Awards represented a drop-off of more than a million from last year and Oscars’ smallest audience since 2008.
The Nielsen company said Monday that viewership dipped notably from the 34.3million who watched the ABC telecast in 2016.
In 2008, just 32million viewers tuned in.
There is a lot of speculation as to why that number dropped so steeply this year but the current political atmosphere cannot be ignored as a significant contributor. With 62 million Trump supporters being regularly insulted and degraded by the celebrity class, there are bound to be a hefty portion who simply did not wish to see themselves further ridiculed by the people who have no other job but to entertain them.
Everything is political these days, even fashion and the brands you choose to support. From Colin Kaepernick to Sarah Silverman to grabbing a coffee at Starbuck’s it seems there is no place in the public discourse that hasn’t been poisoned by divisive political rhetoric and gross intolerance. It is wearying, and with no promises that the stars and winners of the night wouldn’t use their stage to denigrate half the country, many people decided not to risk being insulted at all. They simply tuned out.
It is interesting to note that the last time the numbers were this low was in 2008, just after Obama’s election. That was yet another year where politics were at the forefront of culture, having just elected the first black president. It was also a divisive year as once again a large portion of the country were being routinely insulted as bigots and hate-mongers for choosing to vote against Obama. It can’t be a coincidence that at the beginning of his divisive administration people were turning off the Oscars and at the beginning of this divisive administration people are turning off the Oscars.
Of course there are other potential reasons for the drop. Streaming television pretty much guarantees there’s always something to watch these days and few shows hold their new episodes from competing with awards nights anymore. We’re no longer beholden to 2 or 3 channels for our entertainment. Anyone who wants to watch something else on that night can do so fairly easily.
Also, fewer Americans saw the movies nominated this year. Having been roundly shamed and mocked last year for making the #OscarsSoWhite the Academy voters seemed to overcompensated this year by nominating an unprecedented amount of minority films and artists. However, despite their progress in Hollywood over the last decade minority films are still largely independent projects. They’re typically not blockbusters and with the price of a movie ticket becoming more and more expensive every year, fewer families have the money to waste on a movie they may or may not like. They’re more likely to go see “The Avengers” than “Fences” because it’s a safer bet for a return on their entertainment dollars.
The Oscar ceremony itself seemed far tamer politically than first expected. There were digs and jabs and a few winners took the opportunity to vaguely reference their outrage without naming anyone in particular but for the most part the political outrage was at least very muted. Host Jimmy Kimmel did his best to keep the humor light. The production was much tighter and timelier than in years past and not bogged down by a lot of extra showbiz numbers.
What the ratings speak to most is that Hollywood is not as important to the average citizen as they would like to think they are. They entertain us and we pay them well to do so, but they rarely speak for us and hardly ever speak to us unless it is to scold those of us who live outside their bubble. Americans are simply not interested in being preached at while they’re just trying to enjoy themselves in front of the tv on a Sunday night.
It will be interesting to see how next year’s Academy Awards change or adapt. Will they respond to the drop in numbers by officially limiting political talk or adding more to the production value? Will Americans have reached peak Trump-outrage by then, thus removing the urgency for many celebrities to wax poetic at the microphone? Or maybe we will see a spate of anti-Trump projects being hailed and rewarded as “courageous” next year?
Who knows. One thing we know for sure is that when it comes to Hollywood productions, cash is king. When the money is funny, revenue takes priority over politics.