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Academy awards 2018.jpg

How to Fix the Oscars: Give the Ceremony to Netflix

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | January 9, 2019 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | January 9, 2019 |

Academy awards 2018.jpg

Kevin Hart wants to host the Oscars again. After stepping down from his duties for this year’s ceremony, following a refusal to apologize for a long series of homophobic tweets and remarks, Hart is on the PR trail looking for penance. Well, actually, he’s really just chastising everyone else for being so mean to him while Ellen DeGeneres watches on and nods in agreement. All good promotion for his upcoming movie, if nothing else. You know the film. The one that was originally from The Weinstein Company, right? But I digress.

The Oscars are next month and they still don’t have a host. As was noted by The Hollywood Reporter before Hart was hired for all of five minutes, nobody in the entertainment industry wants the job. It’s high-pressure, offers little benefits, doesn’t pay all that much, is constricting to the central star, and is ultimately one of the more thankless jobs in the business. Even great hosts who have knocked it out of the park for other awards ceremonies have tanked at the Oscars, so why take the risk? For a while, it seemed like the Academy were ready to take inspiration from their own history and have multiple hosts throughout the night as they had done for ceremonies in the 1960s. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if they took Hart back and gave him a hero’s welcome, even after Hart declared he would not do so. Right now, they’re that desperate.

But Hart was and will remain the least of their concerns. The new Oscars ceremony will be cut down to three hours in length, meaning some awards - probably technical categories - will be given out during the breaks and included in an end-of-show montage akin to the BAFTAs. It will make for a shorter show, thus ending the yearly complaints about the show’s interminable running time, but it’s a loss in the long-term. It speaks volumes to how both the Academy and ABC are willing to cut out vast swaths of the film industry in order to satisfy an audience that isn’t there anymore, if it ever really was. In the meantime, that dedicated core demographic of Oscar fans who tune in every year without fail will continue to do so with the knowledge that they’ve never been the network or Academy’s priority despite their loyalty. The entire point of the Oscars will be further diluted to chase dying trends or uninterested audiences (and make no mistake, that Best Popular Film nonsense will almost certainly be revived in the next few years).

The Oscars is one night a year. It should not be this difficult to do, nor should it be treated as a nuisance ABC have to deal with to satisfy non-existent demographics. There are still a few years left on the Academy’s contract with ABC, but here is my solution for fixing the Oscars:

Give it to Netflix.

I know that a lot of people are exhausted with the idea of Netflix have a monopoly on every area of entertainment - although ABC/Disney are hardly innocent in that game - but hear me out. Network television desperately needs major live-events like the Oscars to garner captive audiences but they’re doing nothing to nurture those demographics that tune in year after year. All the things that make the Oscars so interesting to film fans like me have been condensed, removed or flat-out ignored over the past several years in the televised broadcast. We no longer see the honourary Oscars be given out, with the Governors Awards reduced to a minor montage. There’s little time given to the technical awards and no emphasis put on their importance in the entire movie-making process because these fields aren’t exactly populated by A-List stars. More time is given to tired comedic monologues or moments like Jimmy Kimmel introducing lowly normal people to dazzling celebrities than the awards themselves. The things that people who actually care about the Oscars care about are maligned in favour of party games and late-night skits. It’s not good for the Oscars so why not call the bluff of ABC?

Netflix could allow for an Oscars ceremony that runs as long as it needs to. People could give the speeches they want to without having to deal with the indignity of being played off by a harried orchestra sticking to a schedule. The host choices could be more diverse, not beholden to Disney’s roster or concerns over who will play well in what part of the country. Time could be given to fully pay celebration to each area of film-making instead of reducing everything to pithy montages. Let’s see more on how sound mixing works, or why the production design teams are so crucial to the success of a movie. Let’s hear more from film-makers on why they do what they do and how it’s accomplished. Let’s make a truly global experience through this awards ceremony by having it be accessible to the world through one platform.

The benefits of a Netflix Oscars would extend beyond the ceremony itself. Netflix have the time and resources to make the Academy Awards an event in the same way networks treat the Super Bowl. There’s immense potential in the lead-up to the big night for Netflix and the Academy to expand the celebrations in ways that truly celebrate film. All those round-tables you see the trades create for actors, directors and the like? Do them with Netflix. What about specials on the tech categories that show people at work and why their efforts that year were nominated in the first place? The Academy’s incredible archive of past ceremonies could be made available for viewing, if not in its entirety then certainly in segments, thus allowing them to accomplish one of their most prized goals to preserve their history. Hell, we may even get a chance to actually see the Governors Awards and technical specials.

Netflix has the capacity to be an all-encompassing platform for the Academy in a way network television simply cannot. Much of the Academy’s efforts in recent years have been put towards not only rehabilitating their reputations post-#OscarsSoWhite but fundraising for the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. While it is set to open in 2019, as recently as November 2018, Variety were reporting that the Academy were still $100 million short of their target (although Netflix were reported to have donated to the cause). Most people don’t even know this is happening and aren’t aware of what the Academy does outside of the Oscars. It wouldn’t hurt them to have a platform to spread the word all year round.

I’ve seen people argue that the audience for such a thing is too niche for Netflix to justify the cost, which is a curious stance to take regarding the most recognizable and iconic awards ceremony in cinema. This is a global brand with the reach to match and one that would reap many benefits in the long-term once the initial logistics were ironed out. The other complaint I mainly see regarding this idea is how audiences would lose the live aspect of the show and all the social media fun that comes with it. Awards season Twitter is indeed one of the better things about the platform but its loss wouldn’t be a painful sacrifice. We mostly use Twitter to b-tch about the stuff we don’t like about the Oscars and its painfully awkward live show anyway. Netflix have said they have no plans to enter live-streaming, so any Oscars show they had in the near future would be one that premiered on the platform after the fact, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they will one day go truly live. Such a thing would not be a huge technical obstacle for them to overcome. Their competition has already managed it, as seen with Amazon’s sports deals. If they didn’t want to do that, perhaps they could partner with another online platform for the live element? I don’t think YouTube would mind.

The biggest obstacle to such a change would be the loss of money the Academy makes from all those international distribution deals and the ever-present question of Netflix’s true viewership numbers. The streaming service that has no qualms about slapping down a casual $100 million for a new season of The Crown may still balk at paying whatever is needed for exclusive Oscar rights, but it would guarantee a long-term captive audience across dozens of countries in a manner they’ve become used to accomplishing. Of course, a lot of that clout they’ve garnered over the past few years is based on their own hype. Infamously, Netflix don’t release verifiable viewership data for their content. They told everyone that 45 million people watched Bird Box in a year but they’re not exactly letting outsiders confirm that number. Yet that number was widely accepted as true and that’s how Netflix get stuff done. The hype is enough. By contrast, the 2018 Oscars ceremony brought in a U.S. viewership of 26.5 million, making it the least watched show in the Academy’s history. And remember, those numbers are still nothing to sneeze at in terms of live network television. In terms of overall viewership worldwide, those numbers are harder to find, but even with that uncertainty, those Netflix numbers could prove tantalizing enough for the Academy.

ABC treat the Oscars as a nuisance to be dealt with once a year. Whatever you think about the ceremony itself - and I’m sure there are plenty of people rushing to the comments to loudly proclaim that they don’t care about the Oscars - doesn’t the most prestigious award in Hollywood deserve more than three hours on a Sunday emceed by whoever’s available? By the time ABC’s contract with the Academy is done, the Oscars will be a shell of its former self, all in the name of trying to stop an industry-wide trend that the ceremony needs more than a shortened running time and Kevin Hart number to fix. Netflix wouldn’t solve all their problems - the Oscars are still beholden to archaic trends and their systemic problems relating to diversity remain an impossible to ignore issue - but it may stop the Academy from having to be something it isn’t for people who don’t care either way. The people who love the Oscars will always love it so why not give them what they want for a change?

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Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.

Header Image Source: Getty Images.