(CNN)After record-low viewing numbers for the Emmys and more recently the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards unveil their nominations on Monday staring down the barrel of a similar scenario. And ironically, the best hope of the Oscars not yielding another ratings disaster might lie in a player only recently and somewhat grudgingly invited to the party: Netflix.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences took a few extraordinary steps last year in acknowledgment of the pandemic, moving its ceremony back two months — from late February to April 25 — expanding the eligibility window, and temporarily removing requirements that a movie play in theaters to be considered.
Yet those steps, announced last April, have found the playing field still tilted heavily against movies in theaters, leaving behind a year with no real blockbusters or major box-office attractions to help entice people to watch, blunting rooting interest among potential viewers.
That lack of popular muscle includes films that might not compete for best picture but tend to amass technical recognition, with movies like “Black Widow,” “Godzilla vs. Kong” and the latest James Bond adventure “No Time to Die” all delayed out of contention. Three expensive movies that earned only moderately enthusiastic reviews, “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Mulan” and “Tenet,” are among the big-budget exceptions.
Some industry watchers have pointed to a dynamic in which the traditional equation is slightly turned on its head — where people won’t have seen the nominees (and probably won’t watch the ceremony), but the movies that win major awards will benefit from heightened curiosity as to whether they deserved it.
That’s where, theoretically, Netflix comes in. Earlier this week, the most widely distributed streaming service received three nominations (as did Amazon) for the Producers Guild of America’s slate of best-picture nominees, for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” The first of those, notably, stars Chadwick Boseman, whose posthumous victory provided an emotional highlight of the otherwise shoddily produced Golden Globes.
A similarly strong showing for Netflix in bids for the 93rd Academy Awards would at least give a vast number of subscribers a chance to familiarize themselves with more of the nominees, assuming that Netflix will use its marketing muscle to push (and push and push) its contenders.
Netflix, of course, won’t be alone in streaming nominees into homes, although with more than 200 million subscribers worldwide, it clearly swings the biggest stick.
Amazon has garnered nominations during the build-up to the Oscars for movies like “One Night in Miami” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Hulu, with its acquisition of “Nomadland,” could hold rights to a potential frontrunner, and its corporate sibling Disney+ premiered the animated “Soul,” the likely favorite in that category.
Even then, that might not be enough to spare the Oscars from the fate experienced by other ceremonies during the pandemic. Indeed, the Screen Actors Guild appeared to recognize the writing on the wall after the Globes by reducing its upcoming event to a one-hour special, taped in advance, as opposed to the customary star-studded dinner. (The awards are televised by CNN’s sister WarnerMedia network TNT.)
Much has changed since “Parasite’s” historic best-picture win at last year’s Oscars, but the ratings have been steadily trending downward. Perhaps the bigger issue facing the cottage industry devoted to award shows requires looking beyond the past 12 months, to what everyone hopes will be a post-pandemic world: After a year of understandable indifference to award shows, will these events rebound, along with what many anticipate will be a pent-up interest in movie-going?
To paraphrase a famous movie heroine, that’s a problem for another day.
Academy Award nominations will be announced March 15, with the ceremony to air April 25 on ABC.