The Oscars suck.
They suck for host ABC, for whom they should be a TV event to rival the Super Bowl. The network treated the news that 36 million people tuned in for this year's show as a success story. Indeed, it was a 13% increase over last year and a decent-size audience in the age of fragmentation. But the numbers are poor in the context of the show's own high watermark -- the 55 million who watched the "Titanic" Oscars of '98.
They're even more disappointing when set against other TV events such as the Super Bowl, which drew over 95 million this year and has hit record highs twice this decade. Barack Obama's speech to Congress last week scored over 50 million viewers across channels.
They also suck for those advertisers who look to the few remaining truly mass-media events for reach and overnight selling power.
They suck for movie fans, because they have exacerbated a seasonal programming effect -- in particular the cramming of critic-friendly films into the few weeks preceding the Oscars -- which leaves moviegoers of all stripes wondering why they go through dry spells followed by flashfloods of their favorite fare during which they can't catch up at all.
The show itself sucks for viewers -- absurdly long, especially for a Sunday night, and patchy in terms of content.
Most surprisingly, the Oscars suck for movie marketers. The awards should be the definitive showcase for one of America's last great industries. In fact it should be the ultimate marketing tool -- a sampling event that provides a significant boost to box office, DVD and VOD sales. But few have been able to show much ROI for the movie business from the current show, beyond a little lift in sales for a small handful of generally low-budget movies.
Fixing the problem starts with the product. The Academy needs to change the nomination process so that judges work harder to factor in box-office success. The public vote should count for more than it has.
The ceremony itself could use a makeover too, with the audience -- rather than the Academy old guard -- in mind. By all means, have a big industry dinner at which you give out dozens of craft awards and recognize the old guys. But in the case of the big night, learn a lesson from the (improving) Grammys and give the audience a dozen big awards that they can understand and have a view on. Heck, go crazy and let us interact by voting on an audience favorite during the show.
Forgo the musical numbers, the painfully long retrospectives. Show us the product! Show us clips. And I don't mean the montage of 40 different movie stars saying one word. I mean show us great scenes from the past year in movies.
And then there's the marketing. ABC's marketing team clearly works diligently. But the support from the other networks -- all of which have a vested interest given their studios -- is negligible. And there is little in-theater promotion too. Beyond Disney, the studios and theaters seem to treat the Oscars like it's a rival's TV show. It is. But it is also a vehicle to drive the entire category for everyone in the business of making and distributing movies.
In the weeks before the Super Bowl, every network and every NFL franchise helps build excitement for the big day, understanding that the entire industry benefits from the event. Somehow the media conglomerates and theaters need to arrive at a similar understanding about the Oscars.
As the studio guys know well, the window is closing. Movie files are being downloaded at the speed we used to download music files. Now is the time for the industry to band together and get smart about working together to win a bigger, more loyal audience.
The Oscars would be a great place to start.