Can the Avengers Save the Oscars?

Left Without a Host, the Academy May Adopt a Super New Format

Jan 17, 2019
Management

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  Perhaps a band of superheroes is exactly what the Academy Awards ceremony needs.

Hollywood’s biggest and most glamorous event was left last month without a host. Hours after announcing he would host this year’s event, comedian Kevin Hart abruptly quit, as outrage grew over homophobic tweets he’d posted years earlier.

Weeks that followed were filled with speculation about who might take his place on stage at the annual event.

Then came word from the Hollywood Reporter that the show, set to air on Feb. 24, might go on without a traditional single host, but instead would feature a rotating cast of stars, with the award show’s producers reportedly seeking to secure appearances by actors from Marvel’s Avengers franchise.

Such a lineup could breathe some welcome new life to the award show and shake up its stagnant one-host format, says Maryland Smith’s David M. Waguespack.

For several years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has seen viewership decline for its marquis awards gala, hitting a new low last year when just 26.5 million people watched the live broadcast.

Its declining viewership has been the result of multiple factors, says Waguespack, associate professor of management and organization at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Some say there are too many hours between those red-carpet appearances and the final award presentation of the night. Others complain that nominations too often exclude actors and directors of color (#OscarSoWhite). Still others say the inequities on the red carpet and the #MeToo era’s revelations about cultures of sexual harassment and intimidation within the industry have caused them to tune out.

Waguespack says the years-long cable cord-cutting trend has also played a role, with fewer people tuning into TV broadcasts of any kind.

And while those are often the talking points for the headwinds facing the industry and its annual awards fete, those factors are just the start, says Waguespack, whose academic research explores film production and distribution among other topics.

“It’s really much more than that. It’s about the globalization of the industry. It’s the way technology is changing production and distribution, with players such as Netflix for instance. It’s never been that clear that the Academy Awards matter in an economic sense, and if they don’t, what then are you left with?”

You’re left essentially with the spectacle. “People do like the spectacle and are drawn to glamour and celebrity," he says. "Maybe the Oscars will always have unique appeal in that sense, but there are a lot of forces at work here.”

Are they forces for good? Or evil? Maybe those superheroes know for sure.

There has been a superhero component too to the fall in viewership. Although in recent years several blockbuster superhero films have met with critical acclaim and box-office success, they’ve been nonetheless snubbed in nominations for the Academy’s top honors, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Picture. The move by this year’s Academy Awards ceremony would put many of those heroes on the stage, an unsubtle nod to their contributions to film.

They would also potentially attract younger viewers to the broadcast, not a bad thing for Disney’s ABC, which will broadcast the event. And not a bad thing for the Avengers franchise, which also belongs to Disney. Its next film, Avengers: Endgame, opens nationally in theaters on April 26.

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About the Expert(s)

Dr. David M. Waguespack is Associate Professor of Management & Organization at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. Dr. Waguespack received his PhD in Political Science, focusing on environmental politics and science and technology policy. Prior to arriving at Maryland he was a project manager at the University of California Los Angeles, and an adjunct political science professor at SUNY Buffalo. Dr. Waguespack 's research focuses on non-market influences, such as social networks and political institutions, on innovation and venture performance. His ongoing work pursues these questions in the domains of film production and distribution, internet technology development, international patenting, and environmental management.

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