What can awards ceremonies do to fix their falling ratings?

Are people still tuning in to find out who the winner is?

Olivia Colman - Golden Globes

There’s nothing I love more than an awards ceremony. Over the years I’ve tried to work out what’s so intoxicating about them, but usually get too distracted practicing my finely-honed acceptance speech in front of the mirror. My Oscar is a hairbrush and I never forget to thank my mum.

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There’s something about the glamour of the red carpet, the excitement of seeing so many stars in one room and the thrill of watching the winners announced that I find unmissable. But it seems not everyone agrees with me, as TV ratings for awards ceremonies continue to dwindle.

This year’s Grammys attracted only half the number of viewers as in 2020, and the Golden Globes experienced a similar drop in interest. Of course the pandemic has a lot to do with that – how can you recreate that starry, aspirational vibe when everyone is sitting on their sofa, and why should people care about actors winning prizes when life is so tough? But the decline in ratings is part of a bigger trend that started before anyone had ever heard of coronavirus.

Audiences seem to be staying away from awards ceremony broadcasts, content with reading the winners lists online and watching the most entertaining and emotional acceptance speeches on YouTube. So what can the organisers do to stop their events being reduced to a Best Dressed list and a few viral clips?

To start with, I’d like to propose a change to the way the film awards calendar works. Nomadland and Promising Young Woman are leading the way this year, and both look fantastic. I say “look” because I have no way of knowing for sure – Nomadland is released on 30th April on Disney+ while Emerald Fennell’s film is still awaiting a UK release date.

While the pandemic has interfered with most movies’ release strategies, Covid isn’t the problem here – awards ceremonies have always celebrated the films that are just about to come out, making it a struggle for us to have an emotional connection with them. Why can’t they reflect on the year that was, like the TV ceremonies do? Give us someone to root for, not a list of movies we’ve seen a few trailers for.

Killing Eve's Jodie Comer wins a BAFTA
Karwai Tang/WireImage

Of course there are bigger problems to deal with too. It’s a complete turn off when the same actors and TV shows win year after year, not just because it shows a lack of imagination but it also exposes serious problems when it comes to diversity and equality of opportunity.

We’ve already had #OscarsSoWhite in 2015, and this year’s Golden Globes caused an outcry when Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You missed out on any nods. Serious questions were asked about the judging panels, and whether people of colour were properly represented. If the audience don’t see any stories in which they can recognise themselves, why should they tune in? And in 2021, why aren’t more female directors and people of colour taking home prizes? If this isn’t sorted out quickly, these ceremonies will feel outdated and irrelevant.

Thankfully this year’s BAFTA Film Awards are leading the way on this issue. They have expanded their categories to include more nominees and the result is a much more interesting list of nominations, that doesn’t just look like a carbon copy of the Globes. Speaking of which, it might help if each of the awards ceremonies had more of a unique identity, rather than being a chance to give the same Schitt’s Creek actors a string of differently shaped trophies.

Ultimately, you wonder if people aren’t tuning in because ceremonies have become more of an industry party, rather than an unmissable show. Remember when the Brit Awards provided guaranteed on-stage drama? I’m not suggesting the Oscars provide Jarvis Cocker-style antics, but the promise of excited actors thanking their agents isn’t enough to secure an audience anymore. Give us the old razzle dazzle, a performance to remember! And maybe make the show a little shorter, if you can.

It’s always going to be thrilling to win any kind of award. But it will be less exciting for the Hollywood A Listers if nobody is listening to their speeches. Here’s hoping they can sprinkle some of their stardust on the ceremonies themselves, to get everyone watching again.

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The 2021 BAFTA Film Awards will air on Sunday 11th April, while this year’s Academy Awards will take place in the early hours of Monday 26th April. To find out what else is on telly, check out our TV Guide.