The Academy Awards ceremony is Hollywood’s biggest night, and for decades, it was one of the most watched television events each year.
Not anymore. Last year the broadcast experienced record low ratings, bringing in a mere 9.8 million viewers. Just eight years ago, the Oscars nabbed more than 40 million viewers. (The show’s all-time high was 55 million in 1998.)
The slump in viewership has prompted the Academy to take some new — and much criticized — steps to make the show more watchable, including cutting big award categories such as original score and editing from the main telecast.
So what can the Oscars do to attract more viewers? CNN Business asked some Hollywood experts.
The responses have been edited and condensed.
Show exclusive movie clips during the show
“The Oscars should be a venue to debut exclusive, original footage of upcoming blockbuster movies. Say to the studios, you have two minutes during the show, and the only rule is you have to show footage of an upcoming movie that has never been seen before.
I’m not talking about trailers necessarily. I’m talking about clips from the movies, and it would air during the show, introduced by a star, not during commercials. Who wouldn’t tune in for a first look at ‘Avatar 2’? Or ‘Top Gun: Maverick’? Or ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’? If there’s a fight among studios for the limited slots, hold a lottery.”
More reaction shots
“Give us more crowd reaction shots! I know it’s hard when half the audience is outside at the bar at any given show, but the joy of re-watching old Oscars ceremonies is seeing which celebrities are seated next to each other, who is conspicuously clapping for whom, who is gossiping across the rows, etc. Ellen’s viral selfie in 2014 should have been proof enough of the true, enduring power of the Oscars: a bunch of famous people in one room, under our watchful eye for three glorious hours.”
Keep tradition, up to a point
“People are creatures of habit and we want to see something familiar. So when the telecast changes things like the order of the awards (like the disastrous decision to give best actor as the last trophy of the night in 2021) or not showing highlight clips of the acting nominees, like it has a times (again, like last year), it leaves viewers grumpy. The people who tune into the Academy Awards relish in the tradition of the event, so reward them by celebrating the facets of the show that has drawn them to it, like a great host (or this year, hosts) to guide the show along, blockbuster performances, and yes, faces from the past that warm us with nostalgia.”
Nominate more blockbusters
“The truth is there might be no ‘fixing’ the Oscars if the goal is to make them a hugely watched event again — a horse that was gradually leaving the barn before the pandemic turned that into a gallop. But at the risk of being dubbed a heretic in critical circles, just in terms of making it a more watchable and populist show, nominating one or two popular movies that people have widely seen would surely help.
That was, after all, the whole goal of expanding to 10 best-picture nominees. You don’t have to name ‘The Dark Knight’ or ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ best picture, but at least acknowledge them.”
Split it up
“I would split the Oscars into two ceremonies. One is the behind the camera people. The editors, the cinematographers, all that. The other is the money categories like best picture and the acting categories … Those [behind the camera] people are really interesting to talk to, so I would give them their own show and give them more time.”
Make it easier for the show to go viral
“What the Oscarcast desperately needs is something that is almost impossible to manufacture: viral moments that reach beyond the telecast to make people wish they had watched the ceremony when it was happening. But you can make the environment better for encouraging such things to happen.
That means no more boring montages about the importance of film. That means picking presenters with care, matching them with the categories and encouraging them to say something interesting beyond the canned speeches written for them. It means leaning into the controversies facing the film industry and exploring them, not ignoring or downplaying them. And, unfortunately, it does mean finding a way to downsize categories that casual film fans will not find relevant, so that when big awards happen, the winners feel free to make the most of their acceptance speech and create the kind of moment that may live on beyond the telecast.”
Emphasize the show’s cultural cachet
“I would lean into the Tiffany patina of the Oscars, and play to the insider industry side of the audience at Hollywood and Highland, by making the show sophisticated and classy, with appeal to grown-ups who love movies. My ideal hosts are good on their feet and know the Hollywood players, such as talk show hosts with comic chops like Whoopi Goldberg, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, or Graham Norton, or stars Steve Martin, Chris Rock, and Hugh Jackman.”
Start it earlier
“As an East Coast-based entertainment reporter, I beg the Academy to start the show earlier than 8 p.m. ET It’s a three-hour show that goes way too late into the night on a Sunday. The Super Bowl starts around 6:30 p.m. ET. Why not The Oscars?
Yes, I know that celebrities in Los Angeles will have to be at the Dolby Theater earlier for the preshow and red carpet, but L.A. has beautiful beaches and gets perfect weather every day, so they can make this one sacrifice. Listen, I love The Oscars, but I’m tired.”