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While the Oscars hit a record low, The Game Awards viewership is booming

The Game Awards has dominated the Oscars in terms of viewership and it’s not just because of the pandemic – the two awards shows have completely opposite growth trajectories.

When you think of awards shows, it’s usually the Oscars, Emmys, or maybe even the Kids’ Choice Awards that come to mind, not necessarily The Game Awards. But it seems that these levels of public knowledge and prestige are no longer directly correlating to viewership, with The Game Awards’ average viewers growing to dramatically beat out the Oscars in recent years.

These contrasting viewership numbers are, of course, influenced by the pandemic – gaming has been thriving in the past year while the film industry has obviously slowed significantly. However, COVID isn’t the only factor to blame for the shifting popularities of these awards shows, with the Oscars and The Game Awards respectively experiencing clear downward and upward trends in popularity over time.

the game awards oscars
Image: The Oscars 2020 / Getty Images

Video game industry analyst Benji Sales directly compared the viewership numbers of the two events on Twitter, showing that 2021’s Oscars received 9.8 million viewers, compared to the most recent TGA stream at the end of 2020 with 83 million viewers.

Mr. Sales highlighted the skewed nature of his comparison due to differing data sources, with the Oscars ratings consisting of average viewers while the TGA ratings came from total viewers. While this means you can’t directly compare the numbers between the events, the patterns they reveal are still undeniable.

The popularity of The Game Awards has been increasing steadily since the show debuted in 2014 to celebrate the most excellent games of the year. Annually, over 95 news outlets and influencers come together to nominate and vote on the best video games in a wide range of categories, with a public voting element being added in 2017.

While the two shows obviously aren’t in direct competition, the Washington Post has dubbed the event “the Oscars for gaming”, so comparisons between them aren’t entirely unfair. Much like any other awards shows, the two events serve as more than just an opportunity to congratulate work well done – they fundamentally function as a tool of their industry to promote said industry.

Just like the Oscars is Hollywood promoting Hollywood, The Game Awards is an event hosted in collaboration with gaming industry giants in order to further promote popular games. This purpose is integrated into the very structure of the ceremony, with The Game Awards even including announcements for upcoming games, offering a significant incentive for consumers to watch the event.

Beyond fluctuating popularity in their respective media landscapes, one distinct difference likely impacting the audiences of the Oscars and The Game Awards is their methods of delivery. The Oscars have always been a televised event, which isn’t likely to change due to the very nature of the film industry, as well as the higher advertising revenue collected from TV programming.

The Game Awards, however, is a streamed online event that can be watched live easily by anyone around the globe, making higher viewership numbers unsurprising as the world turns from TV to streaming. This platform also makes perfect sense for the gaming community, which lives and breathes on the livestreaming services, like YouTube and Twitch, that the ceremony is available on.

It is impossible to pretend that the Oscars are not losing popularity and relevance. Even when considering the record low ratings for this year’s contentious ceremony as an outlier, it has faced clear, consistent declines from 43.7 million average viewers in 2014 to 23.6 million in 2020. In the same regard, The Game Awards are evidently continuing to grow exponentially, with 3.8 million total viewers in 2016 growing year by year to 45.2 million in 2019.

While it’s likely that the Oscars will bounce back a bit once there is no longer a global pandemic impacting film production and releases, viewership trends show that it is not likely to ever return to its former glory.

The Game Awards’ explosive growth was definitely also exacerbated by the pandemic, but it’s hard to say to what extent when it was already on a steady upward trajectory alongside the gaming industry as a whole. Perhaps the next annual ceremonies will reveal just how enduring these trends will be on the future of awards shows.