Why the Oscars Are Dying

The Oscars are dying because Old Hollywood is dying.

TV ratings for the Academy Awards have declined since 2000. So have ticket sales for motion pictures shown in theaters. This has been happening since before Covid-19 shuttered movie theaters.

The Oscars honor movies that are produced and distributed the Old Hollywood way: in theaters. The ceremony itself is a big-tent moment designed to stop everyone in their tracks, gather around a TV screen, and pay homage to the power of Old Hollywood. But audiences and viewing habits have changed. We don’t wait around for big-tent moments. We gobble up content on demand. We don’t plan our evenings around movies scheduled by movie theaters based on their timetables. We live in the world that Netflix and its New Hollywood competitors have created for us: art and entertainment personalized to our fragmented tastes thanks to a right-brain/left-brain combination of:

  • AI-based audience measurement tools that anticipate what we want.
  • The human judgment of creatives who have fled Old Hollywood to find the artistic freedom that streaming companies promise (even if they don’t always deliver on that promise).

We dine on a New Hollywood buffet of movies created by and for streaming platforms, and limited series such as Squid Game, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The Mandalorian. And those limited series are blurring the lines between movies and TV with strong production values and sophisticated plots and character development unrestrained by the conventions of network television.

There was a time when Old Hollywood movies bestowed power and cultural importance on “real” stars. Television was considered second-tier. But arguably HBO changed all that by unleashing a remarkable run of prestigious shows such as The Sopranos, which challenged and surpassed motion pictures for artistic merit and popularity. Streaming companies learned from HBO that the small screen could generate great art and popular entertainment — quiet, thoughtful movies such as Roma and dramatic limited series such as The Queen’s Gambit. Anya Taylor-Joy’s acting in The Queen’s Gambit and Olivia Colman’s performance in The Crown were not just “good as far as TV goes” — they were as good or better than anything Old Hollywood could offer on the big screen.

And some of this streaming content isn’t even conventionally passive entertainment as witnessed by the rise of Netflix’s interactive “choose your own adventure” titles (there are 18 available as of this writing).

Ironically, New Hollywood is winning at the Oscars: in 2021, Netflix won seven awards, the most by any studio since Lionsgate won eight in 2017. Those wins have provided prestige to New Hollywood — a sign that streaming services have arrived. But increasingly, New Hollywood has nothing left to prove (except to investors). How much longer will the Oscars matter?

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Writer and pop culture lover.

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David Deal

David Deal

Writer and pop culture lover.

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