Streaming Isn’t Lifting Oscar Movies’ Sagging Fortunes

Oscar statuette
Illustration: VIP+: Adobe Stock

While prestige films’ woes at the post-pandemic box office have been dissected at length, there’s been much less discussion of another side of the equation: For most such movies, large audiences haven’t been showing up on streaming, either.

According to data shared with Variety Intelligence Platform by PlumResearch through its Showlabs platform, many of 2022’s awards-bait films — including some of this year’s top Oscar contenders — have struggled to attract significant viewership on streaming services.

In an age in which Oscar-nominated movies are easier than ever to watch (6 of the 10 best picture nominees are available on major SVOD services; the rest, minus “Avatar: The Way of Water,” can be had on PVOD), their cultural pedigree also seems to be waning rapidly.

Of the five best picture nominees measured by Showlabs, three managed to crack more than 5 million hours watched and unique viewers in their first 28 days of streaming. However, two of those three were “Elvis” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” both major box-office hits; the third was Netflix’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which never received a wide theatrical release but was heavily promoted on the ubiquitous streamer’s homepage. (Viewership data was unavailable for Showtime, where best picture frontrunner “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is streaming.)

“All Quiet,” in particular, has already made major noise on the awards circuit. The German WWI epic swept the BAFTAs, winning half of its 14 nominations, including wins for best film, director and adapted screenplay. “Banshees” also had a showing at the BAFTAs, with 4 wins out of 10 nominations, a major plus for Searchlight after the film was overshadowed by “The Menu” during its theatrical run.

Meanwhile, "Everything Everywhere," a film that did earn substantial gross at the box office, won four out of five of its noms at the SAG awards, exemplifying the inconsistency with which high box-office performance or streaming debuts correlate with the awards circuit.

Of course, comparing raw viewership across different streaming platforms is in some ways an apples-to-oranges comparison given the vastly differing sizes of streamers’ subscriber bases. Showlabs therefore also measures titles’ “share of viewing,” meaning the percentage of all active U.S. profiles on a given platform that watched at least two minutes of the title in question.

To offer some perspective, “Glass Onion,” which has become one of Netflix’s most popular movies, attracted a 17 percent share of viewing in just its first seven days on the service. The debut season of “Wednesday,” which now ranks as the second most watched TV season in Netflix history based on hours streamed in its first 28 days, was viewed by more than 42 percent of active U.S. profiles over that timeframe.

The 2022 awards-season crop, then, attracted anemic shares of viewing by comparison. Only 3 percent of HBO Max users watched “The Banshees of Inisherin” for any length of time in its first four weeks of streaming, while “She Said,” an Oscar hopeful ultimately shut out of the race, attracted just 1.8 percent of Peacock users.

Films that made the cut did not appear to receive significant viewership bumps after landing Oscar nominations, either. The widely acclaimed drama “Tár,” for instance, began streaming on Peacock just three days after netting Oscar nods in several top categories, including best picture, director and actress, and drew less than 2 percent of active users and fewer than half a million unique viewers in its first week on the platform.

Indeed, the success stories of this Oscar season appear to owe that success to other factors. Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” which is not currently streaming on any SVOD service, jumped to the top of the iTunes VOD chart in late February, bolstered by a significant price reduction (from $20 to $6).

While the film received seven Oscar nominations — again including best picture — those did not appear to impact viewer interest; in the two weeks between the nominations announcement and the price drop, “The Fabelmans” had fallen out of the iTunes chart’s top 10 titles. Furthermore, given the muted interest in other Oscar-luring films, “The Fabelmans” likely owes this wave of rentals more to the boldfaced name of Spielberg than to its awards pedigree.

Film fans and filmmakers alike may once have hoped streaming would help salvage prestige titles’ fortunes in the post-COVID landscape, but for this year’s crop at least, it’s clear the nominees’ widespread availability can’t do much to stem the Oscars’ ebbing relevance.