Oscar viewership hits all-time low with 23.6 million in ‘driverless’ ceremony

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Viewership for Sunday’s show, broadcast on Walt Disney Co -owned ABC, dropped 20% from a year ago to an average audience of 23.6 million, according to Nielsen data released on Monday.

It was the worst TV audience ever for the highest honors in the movie industry and beat the previous record low of 26.5 million in 2018.

“Parasite” made history by becoming the first non-English language film to win best picture, beating box office favorites like “Joker” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Joaquin Phoenix and Brad Pitt were among the acting winners.

The show, which ran 3-1/2 hours, was held without a host for a second year and was slammed by reviewers for random moments, inconsistencies and a surprise but puzzling performance by rapper Eminem of a 17-year-old song.

“The 2020 Oscars bellowed out for a ringmaster to harness what soon became a lackluster circus,” wrote Dominic Patten at entertainment website Deadline.

The New York Times’ James Poniewozik called it a “driverless” ceremony, while Variety’s Caroline Framke said it was “frantic” but ultimately saved by the genuine emotion and joy over the “Parasite” win.

Steve Martin and Chris Rock appear on stage during the 92nd Academy Awards Oscars show in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. , February 9, 2020.

The Los Angeles Times bemoaned the inclusion of music and television stars, saying the telecast “struggled to entertain let alone find relevance in the art form it was honoring.”

Audiences for live award shows have been declining in recent years, but the Oscars ceremony was still the biggest draw of Sunday night on television. Nielsen said the Academy Awards also dominated conversations on social media, producing 20.6 million social interactions on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, up 16 % from 2019.

The average unit cost for a 30-second TV ad during Sunday’s ceremony ranged from $1,689,300 to $2,272,900, according to the research firm SQAD. ABC owns broadcast rights for the Oscars through 2028.

The ceremony, which clocked in at 3 hours and 36 minutes — up from 3 hours, 23 minutes in 2019 — could not repeat last year’s ratings turnaround, drawing 23.6 million total viewers and a 5.3 rating in the adults 18-49 demographic, based on Nielsen’s Live+Same Day Fast National ratings ordered by ABC. That is down sharply, -20% in viewers and -31% in the demo ,from last year’s 29.6 million viewers and a 7.7 adults 18-49 rating. It also is down double-digits from the Oscars’ previous smallest audience, 26.5 million in 2018.

Overall, the Oscars was the most watched entertainment special since last year’s ceremony, topping the Grammy Awards and Golden Globes in total viewers. Other broadcast networks didn’t try to compete Sunday, with all airing repeats. (See the chart below with preliminary numbers.)

Here is a list of the Oscars ceremonies of the past two decades with viewership totals, Best Picture winner and host:

2020: 23.6 million, Parasite (No host)
2019: 29.6 million, Green Book (No host)
2018:  26.5 million, The Shape of Water (Jimmy Kimmel)
2017:  32.9 million, Moonlight (Jimmy Kimmel)
2016:  34.4 million, Spotlight (Chris Rock)
2015:  37.3 million, Birdman (Neil Patrick Harris)
2014:  43.7 million, 12 Years a Slave (Ellen DeGeneres)
2013:  40.3 million, Argo (Seth MacFarlane)
2012:  39.3 million, The Artist (Billy Crystal)
2011:  37.9 million, The King’s Speech (Anne Hathaway/James Franco)
2010:  41.3 million, The Hurt Locker (Steve Martin/Alec Baldwin)
2009:  36.3 million, Slumdog Millionaire (Hugh Jackman)
2008: 32.0 million, No Country For Old Men (Jon Stewart)
2007: 40. 2 million, The Departed (Ellen DeGeneres)
2006: 38.9 million, Crash (Jon Stewart)
2005 42.1 million, Million Dollar Baby (Chris Rock)
2004: 43.5 million, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (Billy Crystal)
2003: 33.0 million, Chicago (Steve Martin)
2002: 41.8 million, A Beautiful Mind (Whoopi Goldberg)
2001: 42.9 million, Gladiator (Steve Martin)

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