Sunday’s Academy Awards were anticlimactic. The show itself ended with a whimper, as its categories had been shuffled around so that Best Actor was the final award presented of the night (that final slot usually goes to Best Picture). Presumably, this shift was to send things out on a bittersweet note in memoriam, were the late Chadwick Boseman named Best Actor, as was widely predicted. Instead, it went to Anthony Hopkins, who also didn’t attend the ceremony and was not available via satellite. So his name was called and then it was like, “K, bye.”
And now, more anticlimax: This year’s telecast hit an all-time ratings low with a paltry 9.85 million viewers, according to Deadline. This is a steep drop from the 2020 viewership, which was 23.6 million. At the time, that was the historic low. This year’s Oscars ratings fall in line with the most notable trend of the pandemic-era awards shows: People have stopped watching them. March’s Grammys were the lowest viewed (8.8 million), as were the Golden Globes, which also aired that month (6.9 million). The Emmys, which aired in September, were also the lowest rated in history (6.1 million tuned in).
Part of the waning interest must be due to the obvious limitations all of these shows have to contend with in the age of social distancing. If the point of tuning in is to see the A-list members of their respective industries all sitting in a room together, and it turns out that they largely cannot do that, well, the point of tuning in has ceased to exist. There was also the problem with movies in general in the past year. Many were shelved, many that weren’t underwhelmed. It was, overall, a bad year for movies. None of the major categories promised particularly exciting battles this year—Nomadland was the presumed Best Picture frontrunner going in, but that movie was so small and little-seen (the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner in decades) that its loss hardly would have counted as an upset.
The ceremony was largely inert, besides some highlights like Youn Yuh-jung’s Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech and Glenn Close doin’ da butt. It’s very cool that Nomadland director Chloe Zhao won Best Director because she’s awesome and her win was historic (she was the first Asian woman to win the award, and only the second woman overall). But the entire affair felt low-stakes and that’s because it was. In a recent analytic essay, The Economist argued that the kind of monoculture that big-box awards shows trade in is increasingly irrelevant in a time when the algorithm rules. Sad, but probably true.