ITV's Oscars 2024 broadcast was a turn-off for movie fans

Jonathan Ross hosted ITV's new take on the Academy Awards, but some viewers said they quickly put the show on mute. There's a clear problem.

Jonathan Ross hosted the ITV coverage of the Oscars 2024, cutting to Jimmy Kimmel in LA. (Disney/Getty/ITV)
Jonathan Ross hosted the ITV coverage of the Oscars 2024, cutting to Jimmy Kimmel in LA. (Disney/Getty/ITV)

Many UK film fans were excited when ITV picked up the rights to show the Oscars 2024. After two decades on Sky, Hollywood's biggest night was finally available to British audiences on terrestrial TV and with a genuine cinephile in the hosting seat: former BBC film show anchor Jonathan Ross.

Initial hopes were good, until the show started. Ross was joined by a bizarre panel, including The Hobbit actor Richard Armitage, radio and documentary presenter Yinka Bokinni and TV star Fay Ripley.

They got added film expertise from the presence of actor Ben Bailey Smith – best known as comedy rapper Doc Brown – who has stepped in as a semi-regular and entertaining substitute host on Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's film podcast. He knows his onions when it comes to cinema.

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While these panellists had clearly seen the major nominees (thankfully), they seemed to give the impression that they weren't particularly enamoured with any of the films.

ITV assembled a panel of cinema experts to discuss the Oscars this year. (ITV)
ITV assembled a panel of cinema experts to discuss the Oscars this year. (ITV)

The night's frontrunner and big winner Oppenheimer was given short shrift by the majority of the group, while Ripley decided to compare Martin Scorsese's elegiac epic of mass murder, Killers of the Flower Moon, to Emmerdale. Yikes!

Overall, the vibe was of people who occasionally went to the movies having a chat about how they didn't much care for any of the Oscar nominees and wondering why they were bothering to stay up for it all. Not telly gold, it's fair to say. The reviews on social media largely reflected that.

It seemed that ITV and the panel had made a serious misstep in failing to acknowledge one crucial fact: the Oscars telecast in the UK is for hardcore fans.

As a proud weirdo and nerd who hasn't missed an Oscars all-nighter for the last decade, I can attest that it takes a special kind of person to settle in for four or so hours of Hollywood back-slapping on a cold Sunday night.

Nobody is just casually tuning in at 1.30am to find out who won Best Sound or Best Makeup and Hairstyling. The people you're catering for are those who've been intimately following the runners and riders in both of those categories and were wondering whether Kazu Hiro could really win again (he couldn't).

With all due respect, that audience is a little bit beyond jokes about how all the movies are a bit long.

Of course, ITV likely had a different crowd in mind. This year, the ceremony is available to stream later on ITVX for those who aren't prepared to set up an IV drip of coffee and book Monday off work. However, it still feels like a stretch to seriously expect any of those people to settle down to watch the whole thing in its ramshackle live TV glory, rather than simply fast-forwarding to the biggest Oscars moments they want to see.

Al Pacino presented the Oscar for Best Picture to Oppenheimer. (Variety/Getty)
Al Pacino, left, presented the Oscar for Best Picture to Oppenheimer. (Variety/Getty)

They're almost certainly much more interested in what happened within the Dolby Theater than what the lady off Cold Feet thought about Emma Stone's performance in Poor Things. It's far more likely they'll just watch the acceptance speeches on YouTube anyway. After all, they were up within an hour of the ceremony finishing.

These interstitial magazine show segments aren't for casual viewers on the night, and they aren't for streaming audiences the next day either. They're only there to give movie bores something semi-watchable to look at while American audiences sit through interminable advert breaks. It says a lot that, according to social media, a lot of viewers found the commercial breaks more interesting than Ross and friends.

ITV would be better off accepting that the live Oscars telecast is the domain of nerds and simply delivering on that. A panel of film critics would be preferable, or at least a selection of stars a little closer to the Oscars red carpet.

This isn't exclusively an ITV issue, with seasoned British Oscars-watchers on Sky given similarly strange panels in which film expert Alex Zane would often be joined by a random assembly of whoever from the light entertainment Rolodex was willing to stay up all night at a London studio.

There is a place for more accessible Oscars coverage, of course, and a shorter wrap-up programme would be a better use of this sort of panel. Get them together in the immediate aftermath of the ceremony to reflect on the results and make an hour-long package available to stream for people waking up and wanting a brief précis of what they missed. That would be a valuable and welcome service.

Fay Ripley and Ben Bailey Smith were on ITV's panel during the Oscars. (ITV)
Fay Ripley and Ben Bailey Smith were on ITV's panel during the Oscars. (ITV)

The Oscars are an odd duck for broadcasters in the UK. It feels as if they should be a primetime spectacle, but those pesky clocks mean they're instead an obscure viewing experience for night owls and movie obsessives.

ITV nabbed these rights and has been aggressively promoting the show for this entire week – they cleverly popped up a teaser after each movie-related question on Sunday's episode of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? – but they seemingly gave little thought as to who would be watching.

I, along with many other nocturnal nerds, wish they would embrace their gaggle of geeks and cater to the people who actually are watching, rather than the audience they wish they had.

The Oscars 2024 is available to stream now via ITVX.

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