The Oscars are always, and somewhat controversially, trying to adapt to the times. From the scrapped plans for a “Best Popular Film” category to this year’s decision to present eight awards before the live broadcast, the Academy Awards have toyed with strategies to both attract younger audiences and streamline the proceedings. After last year’s hostless show closed with an abrupt surprise ending and brought in the show’s lowest ratings ever, it’s likely that more people will tune in for Sunday’s show.
This year’s Academy Awards should prove to be a more conventional affair — not just one, but three hosts, most of the nominees and presenters under one roof, and many films nominated were released in theaters. According to a recent CivicScience study, Americans are significantly more likely to tune into this year’s Oscars than they were ahead of the 2021 ceremony. After record-low ratings, adults are 67% more likely to be at least somewhat interested in watching the show — which is still a small chunk of the Gen Pop, but can move the needle quite a bit for TV ratings.
Award shows are competing with social media platforms more than ever for eyeballs (which might explain Cannes Film Festival partnering with TikTok this year), but there’s more overlap with film fans and TikTok users than you might expect. Daily and weekly TikTok users are vastly more likely to be tuning into this year’s Oscars than non-users. Americans who aren’t browsing TikTok at all outpace the Gen Pop in Oscars disinterest.
The Oscars’ decision to present eight awards before the live broadcast has drawn backlash from some of the Academy’s most high-profile voters, including Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro. Although a majority of Oscar-watchers prefer the change to the broadcast airing every award and speech, it’s far from a runaway ahead of the show’s major pivot.
It raises the question: if the show plans to shuttle awards like Best Editing and Best Original Score to the pre-show, then what would Oscar viewers want to watch instead? Nearly two-in-five adults who watch the Oscars primarily do so for the awards and winners, with the red carpet and fashion element pulling in more than a quarter of adults. In-broadcast alternatives to awards — hosts, presenters, and musical performances — remain the least alluring factors for the Gen Pop.
However, younger viewers are drastically more likely to be in it for the fashion and celebrity presence than the awards themselves. Nearly two-thirds of Gen Z Oscar viewers are most interested in the red carpet/fashion and hosts/presenters — which doubles the 55+ age group in those combined categories. Oscar viewers aged 25-to-34 also fall beneath the Gen Pop’s interest in awards and winners.
Although the Oscars backed away from the Best Popular Film category, the Academy has still been gesturing toward the idea of honoring populist movies. The show will announce the winner of the “Oscars Fan Favorite” vote on Sunday night, along with an honor called the “Oscars Cheer Moment,” which nominated scenes from films as old as The Matrix right up through Spider-Man: No Way Home. But according to the data, most moviegoers aren’t interested in the Oscars championing movies they’ve already seen.
A majority of adults are not more likely to watch the Oscars if films they enjoy already get nominated — and nearly as many adults say they’re actually less likely to tune in as equally likely if their existing favorites get nominated for top awards. So by that logic, most people don’t necessarily come to the Oscars to have their own taste reaffirmed, but as an excuse to catch up on films they might not have otherwise seen.
The Oscars’ path to sustained relevance is unclear, and like any other live TV event, it ultimately runs through accessibility to cord-cutters and young viewers. But attempts to widen the tent certainly won’t be as straightforward as trimming awards from the broadcast and nominating blockbusters — if the general public even welcomes those changes at all.