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The Year of Streaming, and the Decline of Communal Experiences

7 MINUTE READ | March 17, 2021

The Year of Streaming, and the Decline of Communal Experiences

Courtesy of Netflix

The Academy unveiled the 2021 Oscar nominations early Monday morning, led by Netflix’s impressive 35 nominations, which drew greater attention to the growing dominance of streaming platforms and raised questions about the post-pandemic future of cinema. As the pandemic disrupted moviegoing worldwide, many Hollywood studios withheld major motion pictures in 2020, leading to an assortment of films and plenty of newcomers receiving Oscar nods for the first time. 

Many films, such as The Trial of the Chicago 7, which received nominations across various categories, were rerouted to streaming platforms after the pandemic extended theater closures throughout 2020. In fact, all five nominations that went to Disney+ were for films originally destined for theatrical release, only later moving to video-on-demand (VOD).

Amazon Prime Video trailed Netflix’s 35 nods with 12 total nominations this year, indicating how the tide has turned toward streaming services’ legitimacy and keen ability (and budget) to compete for top films, talent, and audiences. New streaming entrant AppleTV+ also received its first Oscar nominations, an impressive feat amidst stiff competition from streaming rivals and studio powerhouses alike. 

  • Almost nine million Disney+ subscribers in the U.S. paid for premium access to see the live-action Mulan within the first nine days of its release.

  • Netflix ended 2020 with 200 million global subscribers as 8.51 million subscribers joined the service in Q4 2020.

  • Just in recent days, Disney+ surpassed 100 million subscribers after less than a year and a half since its launch, largely driven by the monumental success of WandaVision and Raya and the Last Dragon

See the full list of 2021 Oscar nominations in Variety

To truly understand the pandemic’s impact on the movie industry, one needs only to look at the record low box office figures from the last year. According to the Hollywood Reporter, as of today, the collective box office gross revenue for all of the best picture Oscar nominees totals less than $15 million in North America, adding only $4.8 million to that figure if worldwide ticket sales are included in calculations. 

As a sign of the (unusual) times for show business and the uphill battle facing the larger entertainment industry, many L.A. movie theaters only reopened their doors this week, with nationwide movie ticket sales showing promising growth but still far below pre-pandemic levels. Weekend box office numbers from this weekend saw $20 million in ticket sales, with only half of all theaters in the U.S. reportedly open. The top two titles were Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon and Warner Bros.’ Tom & Jerry, both of which are available for home viewing via VOD, and accounted for half of all ticket sales in theaters.

Nine actors of color earned Oscar nominations in the 2021 lineup on Monday, including Steven Yeun, the first Asian American nominated for the best actor category. The 2021 slate culminates the most diverse group of nominees in the Academy’s nearly 100-year history. 

The achievement of women was especially poignant this year as 70 women received a total of 76 nominations, a first for the Academy. Also for the first time, two women, Emerald Fennell (for Promising Young Woman) and Chloe Zhau (for Nomadland) have been nominated for best director. The two become only the sixth and seventh women ever nominated for the prize, according to Variety. Most notably, Zhao is the first woman of color to be nominated for directing, as well as the first woman to receive four Oscar nods in a single year. On Monday, Fennell became only the third woman in the history of the Oscars to earn three nominations in a single year.

Overall, this year’s nominees represent the kind of diversity that has long been absent from the awards circuit, a refreshing change of pace amid growing calls for the Academy to diversify its membership as social pressure neared a fever pitch, especially after the now-infamous 2015-2016 #OscarsSoWhite social media criticism. While there is certainly more work to be done, it seems that for now, the Academy is honoring its recent pledges to diversify its ranks and recognize the industry’s top talent and their creative achievements. 

This year marks the longest awards season of any in recent memory, marked by unusual film campaigns and engagements with fans and critics that took place via Zoom and other virtual gatherings rather than red carpet events and live panel discussions with the stars.

While Hollywood enjoys the buzz of Oscar nominations, the entertainment industry continues to face a multitude of changes and challenges. After announcing the nominations across all 23 Oscar categories via remote feed in London, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Nick Jonas revealed that the 93rd Oscars ceremony will take place at both L.A.’s Union Station and the Dolby Theatre, a setup similar to the 78th annual Golden Globes earlier this year. The network will be charged with attracting viewers, a task predicted to be quite a challenge with viewers reporting growing awards show apathy. 

Over the weekend, viewership for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards on CBS hit a record low, according to Nielsen’s Live+Same Day official national tally. Variety reported that “Music’s Biggest Night delivered an average of 8.8 million viewers for the network during the ceremony’s broadcast,” with a 2.1 rating in the 18-49 audience demographic. In the end, Grammys viewership was down 35% compared to the previous year. Despite these figures, the Grammys said the show was still the largest audience for an awards show this season.

As the pandemic continues to accelerate trends and transform the way we seek entertainment, recent award show viewership numbers represent the challenges linear broadcast TV has been struggling with for years: The exodus from linear TV, and to a greater extent, the loss of communal experiences. The growth of on-demand content and ad-free viewing experiences, the stickiness of always-on social feeds, and the near omnipresence of stars on social media have eroded the common definition of pop culture and what establishes must-see TV. In other words, why watch live when you can see the highlights on your social feed later?

In AT&T’s Friday presentation to analysts and investors, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar announced that an ad-supported subscription tier to HBO Max would be available in June 2021, with access to the company’s full catalog, sans theatrical titles. While the new subscription price was not confirmed, Kilar reiterated that HBO is looking to keep the price competitive, aiming to use the new subscription tier to help HBO Max scale to even more subscribers than initially projected at launch. 

As reported by Adweek, “HBO Max expects to reach as many as 150 million subscribers worldwide by the end of 2025 (about half of which are expected to come from outside the U.S. market, Kilar said), about 66% more than its earlier projections of 75-90 million subscribers in the same time frame. By the end of this year, HBO Max is shooting to have 67-70 million subscribers, and the company has already met its initial projections two years ahead of schedule: Combined, HBO and HBO Max have 41.5 million subscribers domestically.”

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As an indication of advertisers’ appetite for tapping into HBO’s rich audience data, Kilar announced that HBO Max had already secured $80 million in upfront commitments during negotiations last year, stating, “Advertising, when executed thoughtfully and elegantly, is a powerful way to lower prices for everyone.”


Posted by Abby Long