Award shows in the film industry have been around since 1954 – the year of the first Academy Awards. Back then, the show lasted only 15 minutes and had a live audience of 270 people, according to History.com. In contrast, this year’s Academy Awards lasted three hours and 40 minutes and had a live audience of about 3,300 guests.
The Academy Awards is not the only awards show to increase greatly in production value throughout the years, as today the Golden Globes and the Emmys follow closely behind with similar runtimes and audience sizes. However, this growth in production value does not equate to a growth in viewership. Statistics show that on the other side of the camera, there is actually a decrease in the amount of attention these ‘bigger and better’ shows are getting.
For example, records from Statista.com indicate the Academy Awards lost 20 million viewers between 2019 and 2021, dropping from 30 million views to 10 million. The Golden Globes dropped from 19 million views to five million views between 2019 and 2021 as well, and the Emmys witnessed viewership drop by 25% within the past year, according to Variety.com.
If award shows are increasing in entertainment and marketing value by being longer and larger, where is the audience going?
Gary Zelasko, professor of film studies, believes that the focus on these values might just be the reason viewers are walking away.
“Award shows (in the past) were used to honor people’s excellence in their area of expertise,” Zelasko said. “But now, they are mainly focused around marketing campaigns, and the awards themselves are marketing tools. Ads for the award shows attract audiences to both the show and the nominees’ projects.”
Zelasko argues that the entire purpose of award shows has switched from recognizing and rewarding artists’ hard work to just serving as a strategy for people to market their film projects to the audiences who tune in.
“Although the shows used to be merit- and honor-based, they are now commercialized and the winners are those that could afford better marketing,” Zelasko said.
Controversy around the claim that winners of the awards are bought and not fairly nominated has been swirling for a while.
In a Vanity Fair article, TVGuide data showed that “the average spent on an Emmy campaign for a TV series ranges from $150,000 to $500,000.”
Additionally, Variety magazine estimated in 2019 that “Oscar campaign budgets for films can run from $20 million to $30 million as companies compete with each other to out-wine and dine awards voters.” According to the same article, “The campaign for ‘A Star Is Born’ came in at slightly lower than $20 million, in a studio effort to spend more strategically than in past years (as with the $25 million it spent on ‘Argo,’ or the $20 million for ‘Gravity’).”
Olivia Hagen, freshman film major, believes that the award shows have been corrupted.
“Award shows nowadays give out awards based on popularity, but they should be chosen by film critics who critique the artistic value of the films,” Hagen said.
Yselle Barajas, sophomore psychology major, noted that she does not tune in.
“I don’t watch them,” Barajas said. “I don’t think people really care about who wins the awards anymore. The only times I really hear about the shows are when people are talking about the red carpet outfits. People who still watch for the awards are probably just doing it out of nostalgia.”
Though the change in the focus of award shows has shifted, Zelasko encourages students to still seek out quality films independently, regardless of the amount of marketing or awards the film may have received.
“There is always an audience for good films, whether or not it is recognized with awards,” Zelasko said. “People will support films with great values and quality production that tell a story well.”