How streaming services broke awards shows
No matter what movie wins the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama on Sunday evening, lots of people are going to go, "huh?"
Take The Trial of the Chicago 7, the Aaron Sorkin-penned courtroom drama about the aftermath of the anti-Vietnam War protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention: It's a frontrunner, but 62 percent of Americans have heard "nothing at all" about it, according to a new Morning Consult survey. How about Nomadland, the film that I predicted last fall would have a good shot at winning the Oscar next month? Nearly three-quarters of people still don't know what it is. Or how about Mank, David Fincher's biopic about the writer of what is widely considered to be the greatest movie ever made, Citizen Kane? A full 78 percent of Americans haven't heard it mentioned, even though it's readily available to anyone with a Netflix subscription.
What's going on? It's certainly not that Americans are watching fewer TV shows and movies. The opposite is true: Nielsen Holdings PLC's Total Audience report found that U.S. adults streamed 142.5 billion minutes of video in the second quarter of 2020, up from 81.7 billion minutes during the same period in 2019. But there were also significantly fewer shows and movies being made last year. That both these things are true — that people watched more TV and movies, but fewer TV shows and movies were coming out — should result in a higher awareness of Golden Globes nominees. Curiously, that isn't the case.
Culture critics have been arguing for years now that we no longer live in the "monoculture" we once did, where we all watched the same "event" TV shows and movies. Now "we watch what we like, and we cluster together with the people who also watch what we like," as Lainey Gossip explains. This fragmentation of our interests has only accelerated during the pandemic, as everyone and everything moved online.
Which is all well and good ... until it comes to awards shows. The Emmys, Golden Globes, and Oscars are all holdovers of when we did live in a monoculture, and everyone was simultaneously watching Game of Thrones and selling out showings of Avatar. But that's not the way we consume culture anymore, and it's hard to care about awards shows if you haven't seen the nominees — much less haven't even heard of them. Though Hamilton, in the running for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, is the most recognizable of the movie nominees, over a third of Americans still say they've heard "nothing" about it.
Particularly telling is that the Star Wars TV show The Mandalorian, on Disney+, is the "most heard about Golden Globe nominee" of 2021, Morning Consult reports — but even so, less than half of U.S. adults said they've heard "a lot" or "some" about it. Disney products are about as close as we can get to monoculture in 2020, but for less than half of Americans to be aware of The Mandalorian just goes to show that even what used to be an "event" franchise, Star Wars, is now niche.
Movies were one of the last holdouts in our increasingly splintered culture. In part because it's expensive to go to a theater, and also because choices are more limited, people tend to watch fewer films than episodes of TV. Audiences converged around reliable choices, like films that garnered buzz or were necessary to watch to be a part of the "conversation." Since the pandemic closed theaters in major markets, services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO Max have been putting their movies online simultaneously with, or immediately after, theatrical releases. As such, it isn't as costly to be undiscerning about what you pick. Audiences can filter off into their own corners of the digital streaming space, places where, though they might have a Netflix account, their streaming habits don't necessarily lead them to, well, Mank.
That gives us the bizarre situation we're in now, where "out of the 30 programs up for best film, TV show, or miniseries this year, a majority of the public has not heard anything 'at all' about 23 of the titles," Morning Consult writes. Though I'd argue one of the best purposes of an awards shows is to interest people in movies and shows they might not have encountered otherwise, that admittedly makes actually watching the ceremony a bit dull. There are no stakes if you don't know the teams.
Some of the reasons people are unaware of the Golden Globes nominees this year will resolve themselves post-pandemic. It took until mid-February for many of the contenders to even be available to the public, and potential audiences aren't exactly hanging out in offices and bars where "what have you seen recently that's good?" might come up in organic small talk. For the same reason, unless you're an awards show diehard, it might feel pointless to watch the ceremony at all if there is no one to talk to about it the next day.
But the pandemic also can't shoulder all the blame; it's only accelerated the digital streaming future that was already on the way. Like movie theaters, awards shows are beginning to feel like relics of the past, a bygone era when people all watched the same thing.
We don't live in that world anymore, that's for sure. Awards show viewership has been on the decline for awhile, and the pandemic-empowered streaming services might be the final nail in the coffin. When your parents text you to ask tomorrow, "what's this movie that won the Golden Globe?," there's some truth in the reply that "you don't really need to know."