The Oscars have been in shocking decline for years—from plummeting ratings, representation issues, the irrelevance of Old Hollywood in the face of streamers (not to mention the Andrea Riseborough controversy, Envelopegate and Will Smith’s handsy tantrum). Recently, Former Paramount CEO Barry Diller offered his own prognosis of the beleaguered industry showcase. Spoiler alert: The situation’s terminal.
“It’s an antiquity,” the current IAC and Expedia chairman told Firing Line‘s Margaret Hoover of the awards process. Citing the Riseborough Affair, Diller noted the internal collapse the movie and awards-show industry have long been suffering. “All awards ceremonies were based on this hierarchical process of a movie going to a theater, building up some word of mouth if it was successful, having that word of mouth carry itself over,” Diller said. “That path no longer exists.”
This isn’t the first time Diller has warned that the sky is falling on the film industry. In 2021, he proclaimed to NPR that the movie business was dead with no path toward revival. Where some may lay blame on increasing ticket prices, the pandemic, the surge of streaming platforms’ critical and consumer popularity, Diller notes the perfect storm created by all of these, underscored by the quality over quantity dilemma.
“I used to be in the movie business where you made something really because you cared about it,” he told NPR. The very definition of movie, he went on, “is in such transition that it doesn’t mean anything right now.”
The sudden cultural ambiguity of movies and how we both define and value them is having an impact on how we access them as well. Last year, Regal Cinemas parent company Cineworld Group filed for bankruptcy after struggling with low admissions and a limited slate of films. As a result, nearly 40 theaters across the country will be shuttered this month. Meanwhile, the number of movies released to more than 2,000 theaters is down more than 30 percent from 2018 and 2019.
So what does all this have to do with the Academy Awards? Part of it comes down to the fact that the show won audiences by relying on a correlation between a movie’s popularity and its success on the awards show circuit. “That disappeared a while ago,” Diller said. As a result, “[The Oscars] are no longer a national audience worth its candle because that audience is no longer interested.”
Though the Academy recently welcomed a new CEO, Bill Kramer, intent on embracing change so as not to be capsized by it, the question now involves what, exactly, would have to change to recapture interest. “This is a different moment in time for the film industry,” Kramer told LAMag recently. “We’ve just survived a pandemic; theatrical releases don’t look the way they used to… Streaming is becoming a big part of our life. We need to evolve and be at the center of those conversations while still recognizing and supporting and preserving cinema. I think we can do all of that.”
And though the Oscars could keep limp along for a while yet, that particular fondling of trophies is already too sad for many to see. When asked what, if anything, the celebrity gala could do anything to survive, Diller replied that the ceremony’s only chance is to aim for a smaller, less discerning audience:
“It should be for the industry,” he said, “and not for the consumers.”
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