The Oscars: Hit Songs, Endless Drama, and Tons of Money

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Since the Academy Awards are coming soon, this week’s episode and memo are about the money behind Hollywood’s biggest night. We talked about the Oscars’ influence on music, why studios spend so much on campaigns and all of the show’s controversies. I’m joined by Zack O’Malley Greenburg, who has his own personal history with the show.

You can listen to our episode here or read below for highlights.

Oscars vs Grammys

Most years, The Oscars get much higher ratings than The Grammys. In recent years, it has averaged around 25 – 35% more viewers. In past decades, the difference is even greater.

But there have been two years that The Grammys had more viewers than The Oscars1984 and 2012.

In 1984, the biggest artist of all time, Michael Jackson, was nominated and won several awards for the biggest album of all time, Thriller. In 2012, Whitney Houston passed away the day before the show, right before the Clive Davis pre-Grammy party that she was expected to attend. The Grammys became a memoriam for the late singer. It took extraordinary circumstances for Music’s big night to exceed Hollywood’s big night.

If The Grammys ever outdoes the Oscars again, it would be because Taylor Swift and Kanye West announce that they will perform together on stage.

Between the two award shows, The Oscars—despite its numerous issues— does a relatively better job at awarding top films than the Grammys does with awarding top music. Plus, there are far fewer Oscars awarded than Grammys, which can make each individual Oscar feel more valuable.

But from a telecast perspective, The Grammys is a TV product with a broader appeal for mainstream audiences, which should attract more viewers.

The Grammys honor the biggest artists in the world who have also become the biggest celebrities. BeyonceTaylor SwiftJay ZOlivia RodrigoBillie Eilish, and Dua Lipa, are all in attendance and have performed in recent years. To keep the momentum high for viewers at home, there are more performances given out than awards on stage.

Meanwhile, The Oscars films are often beloved indie movies with far less reach. A blockbuster juggernaut like Oppenheimer is an outlier compared to CODA and Nomadland. The stars in the room, like Leonardo DiCaprioDenzel Washington, and Meryl Streep, are well-known, but no longer at the star level of the musicians mentioned above. The first hour of the broadcast is all about technical awards and costume designs, which resonate more with insiders than consumers.

You can listen to the full episode here or keep reading for more highlights.

But on the other hand, historical context matters. The Academy Awards has a 40-year head start on The Grammys. And for most of the 20th century, movie stars were the biggest superstars there were.

On our Grammys episode, Zack and I discussed how music was historically seen as a less legitimate, seedier business. The history of the music industry is laced with predatory contracts, financed by mob ties, and sprinkled with nonstop payola.

In most films about musicians, the record label executive is the villain. They cheat the artist out of their money. If the artist or manager fights back to get theirs, they suffer the consequences. Some of the movie depictions are borderline cartoonish, like Big Red in The Five Heartbeats. But these criminal portrayals have been sadly on point. Rest in peace to Sam Cooke.

The Grammys and Oscars gap is even wider when looking at revenue. The average ad during the 2018 The Grammys broadcast was around $1 million for a 30-second spot. That same year, the Oscars ads were more than double the price to reach 27% more viewers. Even on a per-viewer basis, Oscars ads are much more expensive.

This implies the Oscars attract a more sought-after audience with higher buying power. That is likely true, but as Hollywood’s biggest stars get older, it will be fascinating to see how it continues.

Chartmetric stat of the week

For many artists, their most streamed song is often different than their song with the most airplay on the radio.

“Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, the 2019 Best Original Song Oscar winner from A Star Is Born, is Gaga’s 5th most-played song on the radio for the last 180 days. #1 is Poker Face, #Bad Romance, #3 is Just Dance, #4 is Paparazzi, then #4 is Shallow.

By when we move to streaming, “Shallow” has over 2.3 billion streams, nearly twice as “Poker Face,” which has 1.178 billion streams!

In the full episode, we also covered:

– why Netflix and Amazon spend tens of millions on Oscars campaigns
– how the economics work for ABC and the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences
– why Zack blames Suge Knight for the Will Smith – Chris Rock slap

You can listen to the full episode here.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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