Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Limbo — Along With the Oscars

This could be the first time in a decade Vanity Fair is unable to hold its swanky Oscar party and fete Hollywood at large.

It seems almost impossible, but the coronavirus pandemic has not yet been a year in the West, and Vanity Fair was able to throw its annual party in 2020. Even allowing The New York Times back in for coverage, after the outlet was disinvited from the 2019 party over a story that made a case for the event’s waning relevance and popularity among entertainment insiders. This year, however, it could very well turn out there won’t be a party for anyone to cover at all.

To state the obvious, the party is certainly not happening in February, as usual, since the Oscars itself is not happening then. The 2021 ceremony has been officially delayed with a tentative date, for some kind of ceremony, set for April 25. This has also thrown something of a wrench in Vanity Fair’s publication schedule. February is when it normally runs its “Hollywood Issue,” to coincide with the Oscars and the party, but that issue is said to have been pushed back under the circumstances. When it will run is not yet clear. A Vanity Fair representative declined to comment.

Equally unclear is what the Oscars will actually look like should the awards proceed this year. They are being produced by director Steven Soderbergh, movie producer Stacey Sher and entertainment event producer Jesse Collins, but whether or not they will be an in-person event is still far from certain. A representative of the Academy declined to comment. 

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As of now, large events and gatherings are still banned in California, particularly in Los Angeles, where the Oscars are held. The city and the state have been dealing with several weeks of an unprecedented increase in people becoming ill with the virus. On Monday alone, more that 74,000 new cases of the illness were recorded, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. While a vaccine is beginning to roll out, it’s expected to be many more months before the general public is vaccinated or any kind of herd immunity to the virus is reached. State and city officials have made no mention of plans to lift the ban on large gatherings and events by spring.

Should a “virtual Oscars” be what comes out this year, it’s possible that Vanity Fair would hold a virtual party to coincide, and the idea is said to have been thrown around. But how popular a Zoom cocktail party would be, and how well it could be monetized, are already concerns. And industry sources have it that requests for advertising bids from potential advertisers have not gone out. Normally this would happen at least several weeks in advance of the event, if not several months.

But sources have mentioned that a virtual Oscars is not a favored option among the Academy, not least considering the relatively dismal ratings of the virtual Emmy Awards in September. The Oscars already struggle with ratings, with last year’s broadcast reaching an all-time low of about 23 million viewers. So rumors continue that the event may be called off, depending on what happens with the pandemic in the coming weeks. Industry speculation has it that a possible outcome is for the Academy to skip 2021 and allow the very few movies that would be in contention for an award this year to be included in voting for 2022.

Should Hollywood and the public be forced to go without the Oscars this year, of course there will be no Vanity Fair Oscar Party, making it only the second time the party won’t happen since the magazine started hosting it in 1994. The first year skipped was 2008, due to the Hollywood writers’ strike at the time. But the party first happened after the death of famed Hollywood talent agent Irving “Swifty” Lazar, whose Oscar party was a hot ticket for 30 years, left an opening that former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter thought to fill. The party circle of life.

Scores of media events and happenings have been canceled over the last 10 months due to the pandemic, so Vanity Fair is far from the only outlet to be impacted by the pandemic. But its Oscar party is far and away one of the most notable media parties of the year, and one it spends an inordinate amount of time planning around. No other publication is as directly tied up with Hollywood, an industry possibly most upended by the pandemic. Movie theaters in major markets have been closed for months, releases and productions have been on hold or canceled and studios have been scrambling.

Normally, the Oscar party is a very lucrative event for the magazine and ultimately, its publisher Condé Nast. Despite the rise of other popular Oscar parties, like that of Beyoncé and Jay Z, which is not open to the media or publicly sponsored, the Vanity Fair event draws considerable paid sponsorship from advertisers by design. Revenue has hovered around $10 million, give or take a million, in recent years. Although sponsorships and placements are said to have gone for less in the last several years.

But the event is also costly to put on, requiring everything from flowers to security personnel to a permit to block off the street in front of the venue. Should the event be skipped this year, Vanity Fair could save what is said to be in the low millions of dollars. With rumors already going about yet another round of wide budget cuts at Condé, a party cancellation may be well-timed for Vanity Fair.

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