By:
April 27, 2021

This should really come as no surprise: Early ratings for Sunday night’s Academy Awards show on ABC were awful. An average of 9.8 million viewers tuned in.

How bad is that? That’s a 58% drop from a year ago when 23.6 million watched — and, before Sunday, that was the lowest-rated Oscars.

What happened? Well, it was a perfect storm.

Let’s start with the fact that 2020 in movies was unlike any year in the history of movies. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down movie theaters and, even though many of the nominated films and performances were available through various streaming services, viewership was way down. Simply put, even avid film buffs didn’t see many of the Oscar-nominated films, or any films for that matter.

Then there was the Oscar show itself. Because of COVID-19, the show had to try something outside the box.

It was different, all right. It was awkwardly produced and lacked a buzz with only nominees and special guests in attendance, no live music, little humor or drama and very few actual clips of, you know, movies. The Academy Awards are typically a celebration of movies, and yet there was nothing celebratory about the evening.

Acceptance speeches were given the highest priority and while some were emotional, heartfelt and poignant, most dragged on far too long. The “In Memoriam” segment, recognizing those who passed away in the past year, went at such a warp speed that it lost all impact.

Then there was the length of the broadcast. As The New York Times’ Brooks Barnes and John Koblin wrote, “In many cases, analysts say, the telecasts are too long for contemporary attention spans. The ceremony on Sunday was one of the shorter ones in recent years, and it still ran 3 hours 19 minutes. Why slog through all that when you can catch snippets on Twitter?”

TV Line’s Dave Nemetz wrote, “Every Oscar broadcast has its slow parts. This year, it felt like all slow parts.”

CNN’s Brian Lowry wrote, “The Oscars are over, and except perhaps for the winners, the prevailing feeling is more relief than euphoria. …

Award shows have mightily struggled during the pandemic, and the 93rd Academy Awards — despite the advantage of capping off an extended 14-month ‘awards season’ calendar — promise to be no exception. Yet even a charitable assessment would find the presentation lacking, amid a host of decisions that ranged from puzzling to flatly misguided.”

During the broadcast, I thought Axios media reporter Sarah Fischer perfectly captured the problem when she tweeted, “Ratings for #Oscars will be horrendous. Not just b/c pandemic, cord-cutting, but b/c show is undeniably slow. Speeches are heartfelt, but too long. Most movies are not well-known. Not enough music. It’s beautiful and intimate but sleepy. Feels like a classy corporate conference.”

Even mixing up the order of awards in hopes of creating a dramatic climax backfired. The final category of the night, which is typically Best Picture, was Best Actor. But instead of the late Chadwick Boseman taking home the Oscar, the show ended with a dud when the award went to Anthony Hopkins, who wasn’t even there and basically admitted he thought Boseman would win in a brief acceptance speech shared on social media on Monday. The only positive, as many pointed out, was that it proved no one but the accounting firm that tabulates the results really knows who will win before the envelopes are opened.

There were some strong moments, such as “Nomadland” director Chloé Zhao becoming the first woman of color and just second woman to win Best Director, Daniel Kaluuya winning Best Supporting Actor, and eight-time nominee Glenn Close doing “Da Butt.”

But those moments were far and few between. All in all, it was just a night too slow to be good.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg wrote how the ceremony took place at Los Angeles’ Union Station, adding, “which, as others have noted, was fitting, because it was, in some ways, a trainwreck.”

While some conservative networks tried to paint politics as the reason why people tuned out, the Oscar ceremony wasn’t any more political than usual.

The poor ratings and sluggish show all felt completely COVID-driven. Prediction: If the next year returns to somewhat normalcy, and we all start seeing movies again, then next year’s Oscar ceremony will return to somewhat normal, too. Including its ratings.

Changing names

(AP Photo/Kin Cheung, FIle)

The New York Times is retiring the term “op-ed.”

“Op-ed” is a newspaper shorthand for the phrase “opposite editorial.” Basically it means an opinionated article written by someone who isn’t a newspaper employee. In other words, it’s a guest essay.

Which is what the Times will now call it: a guest essay.

Kathleen Kingsbury — the Opinion editor of The New York Times who oversees the Times’ editorial board and Opinion section — wrote, “The reason is simple: In the digital world, in which millions of Times subscribers absorb the paper’s journalism online, there is no geographical ‘Op-Ed,’ just as there is no geographical ‘Ed’ for Op-Ed to be opposite to. It is a relic of an older age and an older print newspaper design. So now, at age 50, the designation will be retired. Editorials will still be called editorials, but the articles written by outside writers will be known going forward as ‘Guest Essays,’ a title that will appear prominently above the headline.”

While the name will change, its mission will not.

Kinsbury wrote, “We … work hard to keep our readers engaged. Opinion writing in 2021 is a collaborative project, one that is dynamic and not static.

Hence the new Guest Essay label. Readers immediately grasped this term during research sessions and intuitively understood what it said about the relationship between the writer and The Times. It reflects our mission to invite and convene a wide range of voices and views.”

Opinions and journalism

Stephen J. Adler is retiring this week as editor-in-chief of Reuters News. He will be replaced by Alessandra Galloni, who will become the first woman to lead Reuters.

In a final note, Adler wrote about the public’s trust — or lack of it — in journalism and how objectivity plays a role in that trust. Adler acknowledged that as a reporter and editor, he has always had opinions.

He wrote, “While recognizing that I have these opinions, I’ve always taken professional pride in putting them aside because the quest for objectivity reaps abundant benefits. Done well, it gives us an agreed-upon set of facts. It fights polarization. It acknowledges that life is full of complexity and that articles of faith aren’t the same as facts. It aims for fairness to sources and subjects. And though our attempts at objectivity are destined to be imperfect, how well has opinionated journalism served us? Over the years, I’ve come to think of journalists as service providers for news consumers. People should depend on us to perform a task (news gathering) that they value but aren’t trained to do themselves. Like a dentist. Or a plumber. Or an airline pilot. I don’t care about the political opinions of these professionals, and if we do our jobs well, no one should care about our viewpoints either.”

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A day at the races

A photo from last year’s Kentucky Derby. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Steve Kornacki, his khakis, rolled up sleeves and big board are off to the races. The NBC News national political correspondent will be a part of NBC’s coverage of this weekend’s Kentucky Derby. Kornacki will host “Meet the Contenders” segments, breaking down the Kentucky Derby field, as well as offering his insight on betting trends.

In a statement, Kornacki said, “It’s going to be a thrill to be at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, something I’ve wanted to do since the very first Derby I watched as a kid in 1987. To get to play a role with the NBC Sports team, which I’ve been a fan of for years, is an honor.”

This won’t be Kornacki’s first venture into sports for NBC. You might remember that after the 2020 presidential election, when Kornacki gained something of a cult following for breaking down the voting numbers, NBC recruited him to help break down National Football League playoff scenarios on “Football Night in America.”

Rob Hyland, coordinating producer of the network’s Derby team and “Football Night in America” said, “We expect he will be right at home working a sport that includes terms like neck-and-neck, down-to-the-wire, and dead heat.”

NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage starts Saturday at 2:30 p.m.Eastern.

Switching networks

Tom Llamas is joining NBC News as a senior national correspondent and will anchor a new daily prime-time newscast on NBC News NOW, the network’s streaming platform. He also will provide reports for the “Today” show and the “NBC Nightly News.” Llamas moves over from ABC News, where he was the weekend anchor of “World News Tonight,” as well as the network’s chief national affairs correspondent.

Llamas has plenty of experience with NBC, having worked for the network starting in 2000, including being a political campaign reporter for MSNBC. He also has worked at WNBC in New York and WTVJ in Miami.

He said what?

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

CNN contributor and former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum is catching some well-deserved heat for insensitive remarks made during a speech to the conservative youth group Young America’s Foundation.

While talking about the United States, Santorum compared it to other nations around the world and then said, “We came here and created a blank slate. We birthed a nation. From nothing. There was nothing here. Yes, we have Native Americans, but there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture. It was born of the people who came here, pursuing religious liberty, to practice their faith, to live as they ought to live, and have the freedom to do so. Religious liberty. Those are the two bulwarks of America.”

Reaction was swift and critical.

The Native American Journalists Association put out a statement that “strongly cautions Native American and Alaska Native reporters from working with, or applying to jobs, at CNN in the wake of continued racist comments and insensitive reporting directed at Indigenous people.”

About Santorum specifically, the NAJA wrote, “NAJA calls on CNN to immediately dismiss Santorum from his position.”

IllumiNative, a nonprofit that focuses on Native American causes, put out a statement, according to The Wrap’s J. Clara Chan, that said, “Rick Santorum perpetuated a myth that whitewashes American history and attempts to erase Native peoples. American history that does not include Native peoples is a lie and Rick Santorum is fueling white supremacy by erasing the history of Native peoples. CNN should not give Rick Santorum a national platform where he can spew this type of ignorance and bigotry against communities of color on air. Allowing him to spread racism and white supremacy to the American public is reckless and irresponsible. CNN must do more to include Indigenous and diverse voices in its programming and fire Rick Santorum.”

Veteran journalist Soledad O’Brien tweeted, “(CNN employee’s overt racism and ignorance.)”

Jemele Hill, podcaster and columnist for The Atlantic, tweeted, “Keep in mind that this is the person that CNN believes has the credibility to speak to viewers about political issues. I can’t decide what’s worse — the ignorance, stupidity or the racism.”

MSNBC host Joy Reid tweeted, “I … don’t even know where to begin… this is so racist and ignorant I’m actually speechless…”

The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr reached out to CNN for a comment and said the response he got was from an outside communications person representing Santorum. According to that spokesperson, Santorum said, “I had no intention of minimizing or in any way devaluing Native American culture.”

NHL’s surprise TV partner

Last month, the NHL struck a new seven-year TV deal with ESPN and Disney. But it continued to look for a secondary TV partner. Many assumed it would strike another deal with NBC Sports, which has been the American TV home of the NHL since 2005.

But then Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand and Mark J. Burns reported on Monday that NBC had pulled out of the bidding process. Then Ourand tweeted out a bit of a stunner: “Source: Turner Sports is likely to pick up the rest of the NHL’s media rights package.”

There was talk that Fox Sports was interested and Ourand called them a “serious contender.” But money talks and Turner offered a better deal. According to the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand, “Turner is going to pay in the neighborhood of $225 million per season over its seven-year NHL deal.” ESPN is believed to be paying about $400 million a year for the primary package.

Ourand also points out that the old TV deal with NBC and Disney Streaming Services average about $300 million per year for the NHL. This new deal with ESPN and Turner and all the streaming services will pay the NHL about $625 million per year.

Under these new seven-year contracts, ESPN will get four Stanley Cup finals, while Turner would get three. Turner’s properties include TBS and TNT. The new deals kick in next season.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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