Barring a major surprise in about five hours, a streaming service is going to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards for the first time.
If Apple wins for “Coda,” it will cap an improbable run by a movie that wasn’t considered a real contender just a month and a half ago. No movie that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival has ever won the top Academy Award, nor had Apple been nominated before this year.
If Netflix wins for “Power of the Dog,” the streaming service will have finally prevailed after spending hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuit of Oscar glory. The company that changed Hollywood finally wins its most prestigious prize.
In either case, a multi-billion dollar corporation will have spent millions of dollars to win a prize for a movie that wasn’t released in many theaters. It beat out a bunch of other movies that weren’t broadly popular, at least based on the limited data that we have.
This isn’t a brand new phenomenon. Netflix has earned the most nominations of any studio three years in a row. But members of the press (and Hollywood) have portrayed this year’s awards season as the latest chapter in an existential crisis from which the movie business may not recover. The New York Times ran a column this weekend titled “The End of Movies.”
“What looks finished is The Movies — big-screen entertainment as the central American popular art form, the key engine of American celebrity, the main aspirational space of American actors and storytellers, a pop-culture church with its own icons and scriptures and rites of adult initiation.”
This sentence reflects an outdated view of pop culture, but it is easy to understand why people are concerned. The ground is moving underneath us. Movie theaters are closing, and entire genres of film have been deemed ineligible for a theatrical release. Many of the best directors on earth — some of whom are fierce protectors of cinema as an art form — are making projects for streaming services.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) resisted this shift longer than many customers, but it can’t reject the inevitable. The Oscars reflect the state of cinema. You can trace the rise of studio-funded auteur cinema in the 1970s or a new independent film scene in the 1990s through which movies get nominated at the Oscars.
The Academy has always rewarded adult dramas at the expense of comedy, horror, animation and action. The list of nominees hasn’t reflected mass taste in at least a decade. It included at least a few broadly popular titles because dramas accounted for 25% of box office sales in 1995.
But the genre’s share of ticket sales has plummeted, and last year it sank to a new low. Dramas accounted for just 5% of ticket sales. With so much good drama on TV – and so many other entertainment options – people aren’t going to the theater to see “King Richard.” They are going to see spectacle.
Streaming services have been happy to fill the void. Netflix spent more than $150 million to make Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” a budget that ensures the movie would have had to gross at least $500 million at the box office to break even. Scorsese has never directed a movie that made that much money.
These companies are willing to spend more than their more established peers because they are new in town. They need to convince filmmakers, actors, agents and lawyers that streaming movies aren’t TV movies by another name. Awards validate them.
That may not last forever. Winning an Oscar offers intangible rewards like prestige and ego. But it doesn’t do all that much for business. “Power of the Dog” returned to Netflix’s top 10 list for one week after it got the most nominations of any movie. It ranked No. 9, just below a 2010 movie called “Faster” that wasn’t a hit when it first came out.
Streaming services are data-driven enterprises, and the priorities of some are already shifting away from awards bait. Amazon chased awards, only to realize that it didn’t translate into the kind of massive cultural hits it wanted. Now it’s making “Lord of the Rings.” Netflix started by chasing awards, and is now trying to make more movies like “Red Notice” and “Extraction.” (Remember that Netflix started in TV by making “House of Cards,” and now makes seven types of dating shows.)
That doesn’t mean these companies will stop chasing awards. Netflix co-Chief Executive Officer Ted Sarandos loves a statue, and his service needs to have a little bit of everything for everyone. But streaming services’ willingness to overspend to make some of these projects with A-list filmmakers will change.
Traditional players will continue to make quality adult movies — but they will be streaming-only, or have limited theatrical runs. Disney released “West Side Story” and “Nightmare Alley” exclusively in theaters, and the movies suffered. Those are streaming movies in the years ahead.
What does that mean for the Oscars?
The internet has fragmented society and shortened attention spans. Because it is easier to produce and release a song or a video, people are making more media. And because we all consume that media at different times, we have no shared sense of culture. The few blockbusters we do have are designed for people who live outside the U.S.
The Oscars moment as a shared national event is ending. Viewership for the show has declined more than 80 percent from its peak. We can debate all the ways of reversing that trajectory, including a total overhaul of the show. But most people would still rather find out what happens on social media, or via email. They might then watch a couple clips on YouTube or TikTok if some moment goes viral.
The Oscars used to be our best chance all year to see movie stars outside of their on-camera roles. Now I can watch Will Smith go live on Instagram from anywhere.
That doesn’t mean the show is dying or irrelevant. The business around the Oscars has reached new heights, as trade publications and national newspapers sell millions in for your consideration ads. A handful of awards consultants charge huge fees for their work. The Oscars is just going through the same transition as the rest of the entertainment business.
On the plus side, that has opened the door to unconventional winners. Those multi-billion dollar corporations have enabled us to watch more movies from filmmakers in different countries than ever before. It was just a couple of years ago that “Parasite,” became the first foreign-language movie to win the top Oscar.
If you don’t believe me, listen to filmmaker Mark Duplass:
Biggest TV show of the year came from outside the US. A tiny indie film is the current Best picture frontrunner. A 3-hour Japanese film about feelings is up for multiple Oscars. No “big names” in any of them. Nobody knows anything anymore. It’s wide open. Go make your stuff.
Some of the best movies of the year may no longer debut in theaters. The Oscars may never be as popular as they once were. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The movies aren’t over. They just aren’t the same. — Lucas Shaw
TV viewership isn’t plummeting. But cable TV is.
We take it as a given that TV viewership is in freefall. And while it is, not everything is changing at the same rate. To wit:
The audience for linear TV is getting older. But that’s especially true for cable. While the audience for broadcast was already pretty old a decade ago, cable has aged dramatically. People under the age of 50 accounted for the majority of cable viewership in 2011. Now they account for less than 35%.
That’s one of many takeaways from the latest Michael Nathanson report. Some others:
- AMC, FX and Comedy Central are losing audiences faster than most other cable networks. Networks that rely on original programming and movies are suffering the steepest declines. Movies account for 90% of viewership on FX, and 87% on AMC.
- Sports makes up the majority of what people watch on broadcast, including 77% of what people watch on the Fox broadcast network. Football accounts for 50% (!) on its own.
- The average person who watches broadcast TV actually watches more TV than they used to.
Podcast listenership slipped in 2021
The percentage of people in the U.S. who listened to a podcast every week declined last year, the first time that’s happened since Edison Research started tracking the data. About 26% of people said they listened to a podcast in the last week, which translates to 74 million people.
While a one-year dip could be a blip, it’s not a great data point for an industry that is supposed to be in growth mode. Podcasting companies are pitching advertisers by saying that listeners are abandoning radio for on-demand audio.
The Kanye bump
People have been listening to Kanye West’s albums following the released of “Jeen-yuhs,” a three-part documentary about the rapper. Four of his albums entered the top 100 of the Billboard 200 chart in the week after the documentary’s release.
“College Dropout” made it all the way to No. 11 the week of March 3, while “Graduation” peaked at No. 47. “My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy” and “The Life of Pablo” both charted as well.
The No. 1 song in the world is…
“Envolver” by the Brazilian pop star Anitta. She is the first Brazilian act to ever have the No. 1 song on Spotify. You can read our profile of her from 2018.
Google caves to Spotify
Google will allow some apps to bill users directly instead of using the search giant’s billing system. If a user chooses to pay Spotify directly instead of using Google’s billing system, Spotify won’t have to give Google its entire 15% fee.
This is a major concession, as explained here:
Both Google and Apple Inc. have faced pressure from lawsuits and in Congress for requiring app makers to use their payments systems. Google takes a 30% commission on most app store purchases and subscriptions, but lowered the fee in recent years to 15% for media providers like Spotify.
Spotify pulls out of Russia. Is YouTube next?
Spotify has stopped operating its audio streaming service in Russia, the latest major media operation to pull out of the country. Spotify cut off its paid service a few weeks ago, but sustained its free service so people could access news and information via its podcasts. But a recent law (and the government’s stance on the press) made it too difficult.
Now all eyes turn to YouTube, which is somehow still going. But its days appear numbered. Here is Nico Grant and Mark Bergen:
The video service has become a significant source of tension with the government. YouTube banned a channel from Russia’s Ministry of Defense, according to an internal document reviewed by Bloomberg — the latest in a series of actions that Googlers expect to trigger a shutdown in the country.
YouTube last week barred Russia’s military from posting on the video site for seven days after the ministry labeled its invasion of Ukraine a “liberation mission” in two videos, which the company removed, according to the document. The decision to pull the videos was escalated to YouTube’s executive leadership, according to the document.
Two more Oscar storylines to follow Monday
- Will Netflix change its awards approach? You can bet Sarandos will be pissed if Apple wins the top Oscar before Netflix. He hired awards consultant Lisa Taback — and paid her a lot of money to build a team — to bring Netflix that prize. She has delivered heaps of nominations, but not the big wins.
- How will Apple reward the “Coda” team for a win? Most big-time filmmakers, producers and actors ask for an awards bonus in their contract. These bonuses range from tens of thousands of dollars for a nomination to as much as $250,000 for a win, per many people familiar with these deals. So what will the richest company on earth do for the producers of “Coda” (and stars) of a movie that delivered it to the promised land? Bloomberg