What The Oscars Can Learn from The Game Awards
As the Oscars struggle to stay relevant, the show may benefit by looking to Geoff Keighley's gaming contemporary: The Game Awards.
Since 1929 the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, has been the most prominent awards show for film. Millions tune in every year to see their favorite movies of the past twelve months pitted against each other in order to win what are some of the most valuable awards in the entertainment industry. That being said, the Oscars has been seeing diminishing returns for years in terms of viewership, and it all finally came to a boiling point in one of the more disappointing shows in recent memory.
While ratings for the Oscars this year saw a bit of an improvement from the past few years–29.6 million viewers and a 7.7 rating among adult viewers 18-49–the show itself was largely uneventful. For the past couple years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has struggled to modernize and adapt the show for the modern age and are now finally seeing the dangers of not future-proofing the Oscars years ago. While issues like what’s awarded, representation, and more are all important factors, the Oscars could also learn a bit about surface-level things that they can fix by looking to its gaming contemporary: The Game Awards.
Josef Fares’ “F*ck the Oscars,” jokes aside, The Game Awards has found a way to set itself apart in recent years so it doesn’t just function like “The Oscars of gaming.” I’m not even trying to label The Game Awards as a copycat; in fact, I’m arguing that the Academy could learn from how Geoff Keighley and Co. run things in order to make the Oscars more relevant to a new generation. Here’s what they could learn:
Make The Oscars Easier to Watch
When looking at both The Game Awards 2018 and the 91st Academy Awards, this is where they differ greatly. If one wanted to watch The Game Awards 2018, you could do so across YouTube, Twitch, Mixer, Twitter, Facebook, and a variety of other platforms live and free-of-charge. If that same person didn’t own cable or use antenna TV and wanted to watch the Oscars, they would have to either get cable or a subscription to watch it on ABC.com, the ABC app, YouTube TV, Sling TV, Hulu Live, or PlayStation Vue.
I could get into a lengthy discussion about how older media is failing to adapt to the modern age, but for the purposes of keeping things short, I’ll say that the Oscars will only see their viewing pool get smaller and smaller if they don’t adapt to online streaming. Various studies for recent years show that cable is getting less popular so that pool is shrinking every year, and even then every other way you could watch the show live is gated behind a paywall or temporary free trial. As various types of new media become more and more popular, the Oscars need to adapt if they want to stay relevant with a younger generation.
While some may say services like YouTube TV are different than cable or antenna TV, it still doesn’t have as broad of an appeal as if the Oscars were streamed for everyone like The Game Awards is. Even if services like Twitch and Mixer are less fitting for the show, I see no reason why it couldn’t adapt to insanely popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It is clear that this is something that the Oscars will eventually have to do as sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter become more relevant than television, but they should learn from The Game Awards now and futureproof by expanding its availability when it’s relevant, instead of doing it when it’s too late.
The biggest roadblock I see with this fix is that it may be less lucrative or profitable for the Oscars to be presented like that. Even before we had The Game Awards, there used to be the Spike Video Game Awards aired on Spike before converting into its current form. Even so, I think that problem could be offset by just keeping the standard television commercials on those other streams or by integrating the following components.
Splice in More Film Trailers or Announcements
While The Game Awards is a great celebration of gaming achievements from that past year, there is one other thing people watch it for: the trailers and announcements. Even more mainstream television events like the Super Bowl have noticed and taken advantage of how much of a draw simple commercials can be. While the Oscars do usually house their own inspiring short films, videos about the industry, and a couple of softball TV spots, it is nowhere near the same level as something like the Super Bowl, or in this case, The Game Awards.
The film industry is usually much more transparent than the gaming industry when it comes to films in production, so surprise announcements don’t make as much sense here. That being said, more people may have been willing to watch this year if they knew they’d be seeing the latest (and brand new) trailers for movies like Avengers: Endgame, The Lion King, Detective Pikachu, or IT: Chapter 2. Even some more Super Bowl-esque standard high-production commercials from other companies could fit in if those running the show tried to stimulate that aspect of it.
What they could charge companies for these kinds of commercials or announcements may offset the cost of transitioning to free social media and video platforms somewhat or, if nothing else, at least get more people to watch out of excitement. Doing both of these aforementioned things may finally draw more people in to watch it; that being said, if you want people to stay year-over-year, one thing has to change.
Find a Strong Host and Give the Show More Character
I’ll admit, the 91st Academy Awards weren’t as much of a trainwreck as I was expecting, even with the lack of a host. It went by at a brisk pace while still highlighting all of the important awards (I can’t believe they almost cut Best Cinematography and Best Editing). Still, this year’s biggest flaw was that it was quite boring and lacked character due to the constant shuffling of celebrities in an attempt to get as many popular people on-screen as possible. Meanwhile, The Game Awards 2018 was one of the best game awards shows in recent memory and mainly relied on its host: Geoff Keighley.
You can’t deny that Geoff is the center of The Game Awards in recent years and one of its main driving forces. He’s a recognizable face that people can return to the show for, and he does seem to have a true passion for the medium he is celebrating. The Oscars doesn’t have anything like that; they had a good thing going with late night host Jimmy Kimmel for the past two years, but he dropped out and no one else would take it on, resulting in no host. While not having a host may make things move slightly quicker, it does mean the show takes a hit in character and enjoyment.
For example, I enjoyed the bit with Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler at the start more than most of the 91st Academy Awards because of their great presence and humor. Looking back on the show, that part truly shows me that this show would benefit if it put its foot down and found someone to put the show behind. Whether they be a comedian or just a recognizable face, the Oscars would certainly benefit from finding someone likable to bill the show around and keep them for more than one or two years. While the constantly-shifting landscape in Hollywood may make this tough, it would be a net benefit for the show.
Ultimately, all three of these suggestions all come back to one thing: the Academy Awards are stuck in their old ways. Meanwhile, The Game Awards are scrappier and more relevant not just in the medium, but in how it is presented. Whether you want to compare the two shows or not, you can’t help but admit there is room for growth.
Even though The Game Awards aren’t a perfect show and probably learned a thing or two about structure from the Oscars, it’s time for The Game Awards to pay back the favor and help improve The Oscars from here on out. I have a deep love for both mediums and would hate to see one of the most notable and long-running awards shows for film fade away. In order for that not to happen, the Oscars need to adapt, and looking over to The Game Awards for some inspiration or idea may be just what the awards show needs.