question of the day: How could the Oscar telecast draw more viewers?

Mary McNamara, the television critic at the Los Angeles Times, today offers some advice to the producers of the Oscars regarding ratings. Her reasoning: Last weekend’s Super Bowl drew a huge audience of more than 106 million people, making it the most watched broadcast in U.S. history. Since the Oscar telecast have been hurting in the ratings department in recent years — it’s generally agreed among awards watchers that the reason the Academy expanded the Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 this year was in the hopes that blockbuster nominees would draw more viewers — why not put some of that Super Bowl magic to work on the Academy Awards ceremony?
McNamara’s advice is clearly tongue-in-cheek — she doesn’t outright suggest that Jeremy Renner tackle Morgan Freeman when it comes time to announce Best Actor, but she comes close — and only one of her suggestions is even close to feasible: Get better ads. (Except that’s a chicken-and-egg thing: no advertiser is going to spend the kind of money to produce an Oscar ad that it spends on a Super Bowl ad until the Oscars are guaranteed to draw 100 million viewers. Yet even the most watched Oscars of the last 20 years, in 1998, drew only 57 million viewers.)

What would it genuinely take to make the Oscars as much of an event as the Super Bowl? Is that even possible? How could the Oscar telecast draw more viewers? What would you want to see during the Academy Awards ceremony that would make it more enjoyable?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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Thu, Feb 11, 2010 10:15am

There needs to be captivating storylines. And by captivating, I also mean, accessible to the general public. There’s always going to be a handful of people who would watch the Oscars no matter what like myself, but if they really want to get “new” people to tune in then unfortunately it’s really out of their control (unless they rig the nominations/winners but let’s not open THAT Pandora’s box).

Using the Super Bowl as an example, it’s already the highest sporting event annually, but this year it was particularly big because of the storylines. Two #1 *and* undefeated teams battling it out at the ultimate stage. One of the teams, the Saints, was reaching their first ever Super Bowl after being in the national spotlight via Katrina while the other team had a super famous quarterback. It’s not the the NFL made this happen, but it did and voila the ratings.

So what are the storylines this year for the general public? Sandra Bullock finally getting Oscar recognition. Avatar, the highest grossing film worldwide, gets nominated for Best Picture. Curiosity factor of the 10 Best Picture nominees. And that’s it. Oh, there are MORE storylines for sure like Avatar vs. Hurt Locker, Streep vs. Bullock, etc. but the general public don’t really care as much about those.

What they CAN control is how enjoyable the telecast will be. I don’t get why everyone is so concerned about the length. The Super Bowl “started” at 2pm and lasted until 11pm. Did anyone complain about the length of that? Just make an entertaining show and it doesn’t matter if it’s 2 hours or 4.

And finally, KNOW your audience. Yes, it’s great to try and increase your viewership, but do not ignore the people who do come back year after year. Usually these people are fans of the films. DON’T TURN IT INTO A REALITY SHOW. Unfortunately, one of this year’s producers is calling the Oscars “the biggest reality show there is” and that worries me to no end.

Thu, Feb 11, 2010 4:58pm

See, it’s my opinion that the oscars shouldn’t even dream for super bowl-like raitings, because the purpose of the show isn’t flexable enough to achieve such things. It is a night where the industry pats itself on the back, the host makes jokes, tears are shed and we all talk about the women’s dresses. I’m never fussed about the oscars because while awards for “best actor” and “best film” may be handed out, the decicions are never explored, challenged or justified. My favourite awards show used to be Siskel and Ebert’s “If we picked the winners”, because they didnt mearly praise people, but justified their choices and bantered between themselves. Their position as critics made them much more qualified to host a “celebration of film” that the academy awards clearly want to be over Steve Martin or whoever. (Seriously, Billy Crystal has probably hosted more of the damn things than he’s been in good movies.) I say if the film industry wants an annual telecast that makes big ad revenue and garners international media attention like the super bowl, it needs to be a completely different show.

Such goals aside, i’d be more interested in this years show if Tina Fey was hosting it, as she’s one of the definitive writers and stars of comedy television and film over the past few years, and I really feel the host of the oscars should reflect the times. Oh and I’m really against people hosting it more than once. I know it’s been happening for years, but new hosts give a new flavor.

Thu, Feb 11, 2010 9:21pm

I honestly think it needs to start an hour or two earlier. I mean, it’s already on a sunday. If they want it to compare to what happens with the super bowl (not that it really can, but still)… Well, the super bowl kicked off at 6:30, and was over before 10 est. It’s perfect for parties and getting people together for a night of fun, without having to worry too much about staying up late to do so.