Dads at the disco: why are awards shows still stuck in broadcast mode?

"We were somewhere around Greenwich on the edge of the O2 when the drugs began to take hold..." (*sorry to Hunter S. Thompson)

And so presumably began the self-congratulatory farce of the once hallowed Brit Awards on Wednesday. A once venerable institution that was part taste-maker, part headline-maker (come back Jarvis, all is forgiven) has seen its clout, credibility and cultural resonance continue to erode as the years pass.

The show is stuck in stasis with the same format, wheeling out tired identikit presenters to hand awards to Ed Sheeran-a-likes for an ever-diminishing pool of people outside the industry who even care. A similar fate awaits the upcoming Oscars.

With the movie and music industries facing disruption on all sides as people gorge themselves on the all-you-can-stream buffet of entertainment that is revolutionising the revenue and content development model, annual award ceremonies look self-serving and increasingly antiquated for a generation that lives in real-time.

And, to an audience that demands transparency and authenticity, a night of conceited back-slapping from the film studios and record labels jars, and is rightly facing more public scrutiny than ever before.

There’s no doubt the Oscars is buckling under the strain of that fierce spotlight. It conducted an embarrassing U-turn over the launch of a new ‘Most Popular Film’ category, sparked a furore over plans to hand out awards for key categories, like cinematography, during the break and, following a Twitterstorm over its controversial choice of comedian Kevin Hart as presenter, is having to go host-less for the first time in 30 years.

Meanwhile, digital democratisation fires the embers of the movie and music industries. Sales become streams in the billions and audiences greedily consume in real-time. Savvy players like Netflix and Spotify go where the energy is, recognising that experience is everything and you simply have to keep up with an audience that is more empowered than ever before.

Critics can merrily maul Bird Box, but as it hits record streaming figures, Netflix will chalk it up as another success in audience algorithm-based content creation, and presumably watch new subs roll in off the back of powerful word of mouth. Likewise, Spotify is getting smart about circumventing the labels altogether and going straight to artists to seize more share of the royalty pie.

Labels and studios continue to cling on to annual Champagne extravaganzas, but it’s blatantly clear that no audience will wait a year to be told what’s worthy of their attention. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if both the Brits and the Oscars broke from the shackles of the past?

Why can’t the Brits recognise music year-round and create a platform that celebrates albums and artists on a rolling basis or pay tribute to the alumni of the Brit School through a programming strand on Netflix? Why don’t the Oscars retire from the televised glare and use what equity they have left by investing in a platform that stimulates critical reviews and discussion year-round a la Rotten Tomatoes?

Either way, it’s abundantly clear that trotting out the same tired broadcast approach is running out of road. Both institutions need to wake up to an audience that’s more demanding than ever and reinvent themselves before they become obsolete.

That, or take another leaf out of Hunter S. Thompson’s book: "Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas... with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether." 

Tom Bedwell is managing director of Above & Beyond

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