How to keep a 93-year-old brand alive?

Before the issue of Will Smith’s right hook stole the headlines, our eyes had been on another – rather less explosive – update to the proceedings.

Another March, another Oscar season. Half-hearted talk of office sweepstakes might persist, but the stats don’t lie. Last year, ratings were at an all-time low, dropping by 58% since 2020. Maybe Seth Rogan had a point when he said last month: “People just don’t care… And why should they?”

So how does a brand that’s been around since the year of the Wall Street crash stay alive?

The Academy’s responses have been multi-pronged. Some seem to have been basic management of short attention spans: cutting original song performances, handing out technical awards during ad breaks and (though there’s a return to form this year) ditching the host from 2018 to 2021.

There have also been efforts towards resolving entrenched cultural problems, most notably observed in 2015’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy. And though there’s still a way to go, the Academy has increased the number of women and people of colour in its membership, and improved diversity in its nominees in 2021 (though this has dropped again this year).

But one of the Academy’s most interesting changes has been to create a fresh category: Oscars Fan Favourite Award, which is decided via Twitter hashtag.

This seems to be a recognition that times are changing. For one, during the Oscars, Twitter is (unusually) one of the best places to be. But it’s also a response to an appetite for democratisation in a ceremony defined by the elite. Army of the Dead ultimately pipped Cinderella and Spiderman to the post, none of which were ever likely Best Pictures.

Will the ceremony’s reputation be stronger for courting public opinion, or do people prefer expertise? Is this a desperate ploy to appeal to a digitally-switched-on younger generation or a savvy bit of marketing? Or is a bit of old-fashioned scandal enough to do the trick?