The New York Times
For Oscars Telecast, Few Black Nominees Mean Fewer Black Viewers
By MICHAEL CIEPLY and BROOKS BARNESFEB. 12, 2015LOS ANGELES — If past patterns hold, the next Academy Awards telecast might be remembered as the Revenge of “Selma.”
Which did receive a “Best Picture” nomination, by the way.
At least, that is what a detailed splicing and dicing of a decade’s worth of Nielsen data suggests about a show that will, to abundant controversy, honor an all-white group of acting nominees and feature a white host.With remarkable consistency, African-American viewers have showed up in large numbers to watch the Oscar broadcast when it featured a strong lineup of black nominees. But black viewers have gone missing when the core African-American presence was diminished, as it is this year.Notably, the stars and the director of a black-themed best picture contender, “Selma,” were overlooked, provoking an immediate outcry that the Academy had slighted deserving black artists.While the black television audience is relatively small, ranging between about two million and five million Oscar viewers in each of the last 10 years, it fluctuates far more than a combined white and Hispanic audience that usually totals roughly 35 million. And those fluctuations have given black viewers a powerful vote in determining whether it is a good year — or not — for Oscar ratings.The bad news: This year is ominously similar to 2011, when there were also no black acting nominees. The black audience that year fell to 2.5 million. That was down 42 percent from 4.3 million the year before, when “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” was among the best picture nominees, and Mo’Nique, Gabourey Sidibe and Morgan Freeman were nominated actors (and Mo’Nique was a winner). …Any drop in African-American viewership is of enormous concern for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which bestows the Oscars and has been a frequent target over the years for its overwhelmingly white membership. The Oscar telecast generates by far the biggest part of the Academy’s $151.5 million annual revenue, and maintaining high ratings is essential to its financial success.
Blacks are not a terribly desirable demographic for advertisers.
Academy leaders are also aware that a failure to attract a diverse audience risks making the awards less relevant to new generations of viewers.
Because Hispanics and Asians care overwhelmingly about blacks.
Worries about inclusiveness are less easily dismissed, however. So both the Academy and ABC are again using elements in the show to hook hard-to-hold viewers: teenagers, men and particularly African-Americans.
If you want straight teenage males to be interested in the Academy Awards, why not recognize their tastes? The show started up a Best Animated Feature Oscar awhile back for children. Why not a Best Blockbuster Oscar?
And why not a Best Comedy Oscar? (None of the eight Best Picture nominees are comedies — I don’t know what to call Grand Budapest Hotel
, even though I liked it.)
Hollywood people really do respond to chances to win awards by doing somewhat better work than they would have to maximize profits overseas, so why not make a bigger chunk of movies eligible to win something?
Anyway, these data remind me of something I noticed while watching Chris Rock’s attempt at a black Woody Allen movie, Top Five
: black people in America really have a blast being black and they don’t seem very interested in much else these days.