SAG Awards Review: The future of streaming looks pretty good

Next year Netflix. This year, the Screen Actors Guild Awards switched to streaming and it was business as usual — save for a few key twists.

Heading into the 2023 SAG Awards, the typically tense build-up to one of Hollywood’s major ceremonies was noticeably absent. On the one hand, much of the film competition has begun to ossify around the perceived Oscar front-runners (as it does with all front-runners). But taking a step back, the SAG Awards differ from other televised awards shows in that they avoid typical stressors. There’s no host, so there’s no pressure to pick the right one. They never lack for star power, as it is an awards show that is completely and totally dedicated to the best-known talents. And when it comes to ratings, the SAG ceremony doesn’t require the same numbers as the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys. As a longtime partner of TNT (and TBS), viewership expectations have almost always been pushed to limited cable ratings instead of booming broadcast opportunities. (NBC aired the SAGs for three years, but those initial telecasts are long forgotten.)

No SAG Awards this year air at all: Following an agreement with Netflix to stream the event starting in 2024, the 2023 show has returned to the service’s YouTube page. Viewers had to know where to find them, how to watch them and, as always, actually wanted to watch the ceremony instead of their usual Sunday night entertainment. Since 2011, the SAG Awards have never brought in more than 5.2 million viewers (which they did in 2013), and in 2020 and 2022, they did slightly more and just over 2 million viewers, respectively. With these numbers and limitations in mind, the pressure was off: this ceremony could be freely constructed for those in the room.

Most of the time, this (purely speculative) intention prevailed. The 2023 SAG Awards were a lot like most live ceremonies. There was a cold open with Steve Martin and Martin Short riffing on ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ but no host. The actors opened the show by speaking directly to the camera from their dinner chairs and ended with some variation of “I’m an Actor.” The awards were handed out back-to-back — no interruptions for song-and-dance numbers or random video montages — and the actors took to the microphone again and again to talk. (Thanks to Jason Bateman for being so sharp with his smug instructor banter that he broke his co-host Emily Blunt.)

As has long been the case, the SAG Awards were fast-paced, but not rushed; the clock was on the winners (and often commented on), but the music of the play-offs never intruded on the evening. The show relied on speeches and guild members, most of whom are eager to show off their craft to a room full of peers. they are narcissists actors. It ended just a few minutes north of two o’clock and featured a number of surprising and historic victories. But it also gave the tiniest glimpse of what award shows might look like in the near future. The SAG Awards are headed to Netflix next year, and the Golden Globes are still looking for a new home. The Oscars are locked in on ABC until 2028, but with declining ratings, will Disney look to stream the ceremony on Disney+ or Hulu? If so, what will change? What will the awards show look like if it’s hosted on a streaming service instead of traditional TV networks?

The SAG Awards gave us a sneak peek — a year early — and I have to say, I like what I see.

And hearing. Jamie Lee Curtis dropped a muted F-bomb in her opening monologue to “I’m an Actor” (and a silent “shut up” when her name was announced), but everyone heard Michelle Yeoh’s shocking “Fuck! when he won. Curses were sprinkled throughout the show, and the lack of censors killing the punches made for an even more enjoyable viewing experience. It seemed more relaxed, more relaxed – as a good party should be.

The unedited speeches also contributed to this atmosphere. Yes, the clock made itself known to all the winners, but a) if it hadn’t been mentioned, the home crowd would have been left in the dark, and b) that’s because the ticking clock was never enforced. Surprise winner ‘1883’ Sam Elliott wondered what he could say in 45 seconds to express his gratitude “after receiving the most significant accolade of my 55-year career?” His answer: what he liked! Elliott read the acceptance speech with sincerity, pausing for a meaningful pause and choosing emphasis like a great performer – and he could because the producers never showed the DJ backstage or cut off his microphone.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 26: (L-R) Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh speak onstage at the 29th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza on February 26, 2023 in Los Angeles, California .  (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh at the SAG Awards

Getty Images

Streaming allows this courtesy. Sure, some awards show think a long show is a problem and will do everything they can to end it on time. But really, they are there is to end in time to avoid cutting into local news and affiliate programs. Traditional television operates on a tight schedule, which streaming television does not have to deal with, and since the award show actually better to let them be as indulgent as the room allows, longer shows tend to make for better home viewing too.

That’s especially true when the awards handed out go to some unexpected recipients — and extend beyond the 2023 SAG Awards. On the TV front, Jessica Chastain (“George and Tammy”) upset Emmy winner Amanda Seyfried (“The Dropout”) in the first announcement of the night. Then Elliott defeated Evan Peters (“Dahmer”), Jason Bateman (“Ozark”) Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) and Adam Scott (“Severance”). On the film side, Jamie Lee Curtis (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) was as shocked as the rest of us when he heard his name being called instead of Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”). before. ”) shook up the best actor race with wins over Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) and Austin Butler (“Elvis”).

Throw in big, emotional moments from Ke Huy Quan (the undisputed darling of the 2023 awards), Jennifer Coolidge (who feels like the favorite in every category simply because voters need to hear another speech), and Michelle Yeoh (“My mom will be forever grateful to you” — oh, what a tribute), and the SAG Awards excelled at the most basic function of an awards show: awarding.

When it comes to the future of streaming awards shows, there are still plenty of questions. How much will streamers actually invest when they have to present a major event like the Oscars or Grammys, where the host and live performances are essential to rise to the occasion? No matter where an awards show debuts, ratings will always be a touchstone, and audiences for live events are simply much smaller when broadcast. (Just look at the NFL: One of the few broadcasts seemingly immune to declining ratings still lost some of its audience after Thursday Night Football was moved from Fox to Prime Video.) Are enough viewers jumping? to keep the ceremonies viable? Does limited exposure threaten the impact of these awards, which aim to raise awareness of the films and shows they honor? Will there be more experimentation to attract new viewers? Will there be enough fidelity to the principles of the awards show to keep die-hard fans satisfied?

Next year, when the SAG Awards officially move to Netflix — not just Netflix’s YouTube page — we’ll have some answers to those questions. Until then, the 2023 ceremony gave a lot of hope for the future.

grade: B+

The 2023 SAG Awards were held on Sunday, February 26, in Los Angeles, California and aired on Netflix’s YouTube channel.

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