Point At Issue: Are The Oscars Still Relevant?


On Feb. 24, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) will present the 91st Academy Awards to honor the best films of 2018. The Oscars, as they are commonly known, are the oldest worldwide entertainment awards ceremony in the world. Its equivalents — the Grammy awards for the music industry, the Emmy awards for the Television industry, and the Tony Awards for excellence in live Broadway Theatre — have been modeled after the Academy Awards.

The Oscars come at the end of what is known as Awards Season. These award shows are primarily held to recognize work in entertainment. It starts in the month of November with the People’s Choice Awards and is followed by a list of other award functions, like the Golden Globes, Screen Actor’s Guild Awards and the Film Independent Spirit Awards that takes place one day before the Oscars.

About the Oscars, we have already enumerated the problems that exist with it (See here.) In addition to the reasons mentioned there, it would be necessary to look at how these award shows function. Winning the Oscars requires campaigning by studios, and these campaigns usually require heavy investment from the studios releasing the films. As culture reporter Cara Buckley wrote in an article leading up to the Oscars in 2016, the costs associated with the campaign run close to $10 million.

It is an open secret that Oscars require campaigning: even industry insiders accept it. In an interview with film industry and review website IndieWire, actor Edward Norton acknowledged the money-driven campaigns, and said, “Unfortunately, the reality of what’s happened is that what started off on an almost academic and critical-slash-journalist footing has — more than people want to acknowledge — become a game of monetization.”

If that is the case with the Oscars, what about other award functions like the Golden Globes? Well, for the Globes, it is even worse. The Golden Globes have always been known for being less formal and more fun (Thanks in part to their open bar. Elizabeth Taylor presenting the Best Picture – Drama in 2001 is proof of this fact.) What adds to the Globes being open to manipulation, is the fact that the award nominees and winners are chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). The HFPA comprises of about 90 entertainment journalists who write for foreign publications. In comparison, the Academy has more than 8000 members working in cinema from around the world.

The Golden Globes have come under criticism in the past, especially since membership to the HFPA isn’t as strict as it is for other such associations. In fact, the smaller number of members means that film producers and studios can directly cater to campaigns targeting these journalists. Case in point: Sharon Stone was nominated for her role in The Muse after her representative gave them 84 gold watches. Even Denzel Washington didn’t make any attempts to hide the secret. While accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2016, Washington said, “I thank the Hollywood Foreign Press. Freddy Fields. Some of you may know Freddy Fields, he invited me to the first Hollywood Foreign Press luncheon. He said, 'They're gonna watch the movie, we're gonna feed them, they're gonna come over, you're gonna take pictures with everybody, you're gonna hold the magazines, take the pictures, and you're gonna win the award.' I won that year.”

If award functions are such a sham, then why are they continued to be held? In the case of the Oscars, besides the obvious prestige associated with a reputed award, it also has monetary benefits. According to a 2011 report in The Carpetbagger, an awards season blog of The New York Times, research firm IBISWorld found that “the average Best Picture Oscar winner over the last four years (preceding 2011) saw a bump of 22.2 percent (or $20.3 million) in box office revenue after they were named a nominee and an additional 15.3 percent (or $14.0 million) following their win at the award show.”

Besides these contributions, there are other numbers that add to an award shows lucrativeness, like ad revenue. A 30-second advertising spot at the Oscars, which is telecast on Walt Disney’s ABC TV network, has fetched a record-high $2.6 million, which is a 23 percent increase from the $2.11 million cost associated with it in 2018, according to a report published in Forbes. That number came up to a total of $133 million in 2018. Other award shows aren’t far behind: the runners-up in ad revenue were the Grammys and the Golden Globes, which contributed $96 million and $49 million respectively, according to a report by management consulting company Kantar Media.

The most important metric for any event in the media has to be the viewership. Again, nothing beats the Oscars in terms of viewership, not even a regular TV show. The Oscars were viewed by more than 26 million people in 2018. In comparison, TV’s most popular sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, had 13.3 million people tune in for their latest episode. Even though that number is huge, it is still half the number of viewers for the Oscars.

Award shows are, after all, an entertainment industry event, and most artists in the field of entertainment are a popular draw for audiences, which is why they continue to be held. The public might feel cheated of an experience if such statistics are revealed, and sometimes, it also affects the artists who may or may not have been nominated. However, as rapper Drake put it, in his recent speech at the Grammy (which was cut short): “Look, if there's people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don't need this right here. I promise you, you already won." Its equivalent might be true for viewers of the award shows: if you catch glimpses of your favorite artists and stars at such award functions, and it gives you joy, you don’t need to care about statistics. You’ve already won.