More Popular Films Make For More Popular Oscar Shows...Plus the Streaming Measurement Wars Heat Up
The Most Important Story of the Week for 15-Mar-2023
I wasn’t going to write a strategy column this week, since I have a big, big strategy series coming up later this month. But I can’t resist two things in this world:
And an opportunity to pat myself on the back.
Plus it's good news! And the entertainment industry can use some good news. So let’s dig right in…
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Most Important Story of the Week - The Oscars Rebound
I usually avoid awards show coverage, since my purview is the “business of entertainment” and, frankly, awards have little impact on the industry as a whole. Every time I read an article about how an Emmy or Golden Globe win “validates” a streaming service's strategy, part of me dies just a little.
Frankly, the “who” of the “who won the awards” just doesn’t impact business strategy.
But I make one exception to this rule, with one qualification.
The exception is the Oscars, (formally the "Awards for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences"), since it's the most prestigious award in film, and it has some “canary in the coal mine” impact on the theatrical and feature film business. Plus Hollywood’s collective psyche seems to rest on it. (Along with the entire Oscar Industrial complex and the related “independent” and pseudo-independent films, which often feature experimental and cutting-edge movie-making.)
And the qualification is that awards shows still are big business. The Oscars are the biggest awards show, ABC was selling spots for the Oscars around $2 million a pop, and the telecast is still one of the biggest draws on TV, period. Remember when I said the streamers need to “put on their PANTSS” to take market share from linear TV? That includes Awards Shows! It’s the “A”.
If you’ve been reading me for a few years—or saw my February take in The Ankler post-nominations—I said that this year was really the make or break year for my thesis that…
“More popular shows will drive higher Oscar ratings”.
Did that pan out? Yep! Here’s the updated chart from yours truly:
The ratings were up nearly 10%, to over 18.7 million viewers. This raise happened despite the continued erosion of the linear TV bundle and some stiff competition in the form of The Last of Us, the surprise HBO hit that had its season finale on the same night. (I’ll discuss that on a a future streaming ratings report.) Axios noted that the Grammys also had a rebound:
Still, you can’t look at those charts and not also note that, uh, we’re still down 50% from only twelve years ago! There’s still more work to do! So I have three recommendations to help the Oscars (and ABC/Disney by extension) continue to grow their audience, in order of most impactful to least:
First, the Academy must let Disney simulcast the Oscars on Hulu and Disney+. And while the Academy is probably holding out for a second paycheck à la the sports networks, c’mon. Look at the ratings! They’ve plummeted. Sell the streaming rights to Disney for little to no extra cost. It would immediately add 10-15% of cord cutters back to the ratings for Disney, at least, and boost awareness for your show!1
Second, the Academy has to keep nominating more popular movies. The true “popular” films this year netted out at four (as winner Everything Everywhere All At Once moved past the minimum $100 million threshold post nomination). But a few big films were left on the table, including my choices, Glass Onion and Turning Red,2 both of which would have boosted the ratings further.
Third, the Academy also needs to revamp the “Best Songs” category to include more popular songs. This year had some top flight talent (Gaga and Rhianna, plus RRR’s song was a crowd pleaser) but other years have featured obscure songs from documentaries most folks haven’t seen. Better song-and-dance numbers will help the ratings too, at least somewhat.
Fourth, do a Primetime Award show announcement! I thought of this in January, but why announce the nominees at six in the morning instead of doing an half-hour or hour long show, live on ABC, at eight o’clock? The NCAA tournament does this! So does the BCS. The NFL Draft moved to primetime. There’s no reason not to.
Two final notes. First, I don’t really dive into arguments over the “quality” of the show, but this year, people seemed to like the Oscars, Jimmy Kimmel’s job as host, and, especially the award winners giving such great speeches. So...keep the same people in charge and try to execute another good show?
Second, it may take years for the ratings to recover. Once you’ve lost an audience, it takes a lot of work to win them back. I normally avoid anecdotes, but I have a family friend who used to host an Oscar party every year. Then she stopped in the mid-2010s. She didn’t know any of the movies. Even this year, she said the same thing...then I pointed out that she saw Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick. She didn’t even know that they were nominated!
Still, the Oscars ratings bump is good news for feature films, and overall, a good three hour plus ad to go to the movies. Speaking of….
Update - Theatrical Doing Well in 2023! 90% back to Normal
The “story of the week” from four weeks back was conveniently about the theatrical “rebound”. Why rebound in quotes? Because it’s not like we’re back at the level of just three years ago. This widely shared chart from The-Numbers tells the grim story best:
So U.S. box office is not likely to break the coveted $10 billion threshold in theatrical receipts this year. You may also notice that in the annualized trend, The Numbers has this year just matching last year’s totals.
But The Numbers also has a second model based on the films being released per week. And they’ve already adjusted their model up for 2023!
Will this year’s box office best last year’s box office? It’s looking more and more likely. February and March have already seen a string of smaller films opening very well, including Scream VI, Cocaine Bear, and Creed III all over-performing. As The Quorum wrote, January was a good month (M3ghan) for theaters, and February did even better.
As such, we got this update from The-Numbers, the source I trust most:
The-Numbers model, in particular, calculates that theatrical attendance has returned to 90% of where it was pre-pandemic. (That translates, with fewer films and the impact of streaming, into about 75% of the theatrical box office of 2018, which finished with nearly $12 billion in theatrical revenue.)
Meanwhile, the box office could really show where it is headed next over the next few weeks. Shazam: Fury of the Gods’ opening will likely be soft, but I’m fairly bullish on Mario and especially on John Wick 4. And I’m optimistic for Air and curious about Dungeons and Dragons. (Unfortunately, the number of new films coming out in April feels light to me.)
And oh by the way? Remember the news stories about Regal shutting down cinemas to save money? One of those was the Regal Sherman Oaks—formerly home to an Arclight—is still in business. Interesting.