Going, going, gone! Oscar viewers

US television audience for awards ceremony hits record low

  • Published 7.03.18

The doomsday ratings scenario has hit the Oscars.

The Academy Awards attracted its smallest US television audience ever on Sunday, according to Nielsen data reported by Walt Disney Co’s ABC network, tracking a similar slide for other recent award shows and sports events.

Live TV broadcasts remain relatively attractive for advertisers because watchers cannot skip commercials, with prices for Oscars ad spots climbing despite 2017 viewership of 32.9 million, which was the smallest in nine years.

A record low 26.5 million people watched Sunday night’s telecast, a nearly 20 per cent drop versus last year. The figures do not include digital and mobile viewing.

It also represents a startling drop off: As recently as four years ago, the Academy Awards had an audience of 43.7 million viewers.

The previous record low was in 2008 when 32 million viewers watched a hastily organised ceremony that proceeded just days after the Writers Guild of America’s strike had ended.

Moving the ceremony up to 8pm on Sunday on ABC — a half-hour earlier than its 8.30pm slot — did little to aid the show’s rapidly declining audience.

Jimmy Kimmel (left) congratulates Guillermo del Toro at the Oscars ceremony. (AP and Reuters) 

ABC executives were concerned enough before the ceremony that they said publicly that Oscar winners should not feel compelled to make fiery political speeches. Keeping things frothy and fun would do just fine.

And the show, for the most part, stayed away from the industry’s concerns over the Trump administration (a contrast from a politics-heavy Golden Globes and Emmys), though it did emphasise the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, host for the past two years, skewered industry-roiling sexual misconduct allegations and reports of gender-based pay disparities, while best actress winner Frances McDormand called for “inclusion riders” to boost Hollywood diversity.

ABC sold out its ad inventory for the Oscars broadcast and charged $2.6 million on average for a 30-second spot, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

That was a jump from $1.91 million in 2017, according to research firm Kantar Media, which said ABC generated $128 million from the 2017 telecast.

Television executives often point to a lacklustre slate of performers or movies as a reason for disastrous ratings. But with $57.4 million in ticket sales, The Shape of Water was the biggest best picture winner in five years since Argo in 2013.

Ratings for live award shows have plummeted in the last six months. The Grammys saw a quarter of its audience plunge in January, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards similarly saw a 30 per cent drop.

This is true of almost all live events: Ratings for both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics this year also saw considerable declines.

New York Times News Service and Reuters