Don't Blame Fragmentation for Lousy Oscars Ratings

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

The next time somebody refers to the Academy Awards as the Super Bowl for women, the NFL ought to consider legal action. There's simply no reason to let a lazy association with the ratings-hemorrhaging snoozefest besmirch the good name of one of the last great moments in American mass culture and, as such, an unparalleled marketing opportunity.

How bad were things for Oscar this year? Consider that the only clear brand winners were the guys over at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, who at least had their accountancy's brand incorporated into a several-minute look at how the Oscar votes are cast and tallied.

It's not that the not-tongue-in-cheek skit was, in any sense of the word, good. It's just that the broadcast of the 80th-annual Academy Awards was, in every sense of the word, bad. Viewers were submitted to what felt like Hollywood's three-hour-plus dramatization of white noise: boring montages that smelled like filler, domination by too many pseudo stars such as Dwayne Johnson (better known as The Rock, and not just for his acting style) and flashes in the pan such as the fit-for-a-muzzle Miley "Hannah Montana" Cyrus. Most disappointing of all was a performance by host Jon Stewart that had all the edge of a plank of sandpapered balsa wood.

Meanwhile, advertisers -- who paid an average of $1.8 million for the privilege of inserting their brands into this mess -- got the lowest program ratings in three decades. Sure to be blamed on fragmentation or the slate of niche, artsy movies up for awards, those declining ratings are doubtless an effect of the weak programming that plagues the show. What other show actually recognizes its own long-windedness, as the Oscars does in countless (unfunny) jokes? Then there's the hype surrounding the ad-friendliness of the show. Despite the best efforts of MasterCard, Diet Coke and JC Penney, no one talks up the ads the way they do at the Super Bowl -- nor should they. After all, your average Super Bowl ad is not only heretofore unseen, it's also unleashed into an environment where people are reliably primed to talk about ads.

The creative bar for the Oscars needs to be higher, but, more important, the ads need to be around some actually engaging content so, you know, people actually stick around to see them. This could be done by reinstalling some production value; drawing more stars fit to be in the same hall as George Clooney and Jack Nicholson; and getting a host whose charisma does not hinge on the bite of his social commentary -- especially if such commentary is disallowed in such sanitized proceedings -- and who has a broader appeal than the relative few who tune in to "The Daily Show" (maybe even a Mr. Clooney). Oh, and how about retiring those hoary jokes about the show being too long by, um, actually making the show shorter?

This list of possible to ways to improve the show is a long one. The academy should pick a few and get cranking before Oscar's viewership dwindles to the size of the audiences for the documentary-shorts nominees.
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