Academy Awards Pull In Record-Low Ratings

The Academy Awards were a flop for ABC, pulling in a record-low 26.5 million viewers Sunday night.

The television audience for the 90th Oscars fell 19% from last year’s broadcast, which drew 32.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Walt Disney Co.’s ABC is the longtime home of the Oscars. The previous low was 32 million in 2008, according to Nielsen data.

Most of the nominees and winners came from films that weren’t box-office smashes. “The Shape of Water” won best picture and best director for Guillermo del Toro, while “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” took home two major awards: best actress for Frances McDormand and best supporting actor for Sam Rockwell. One of the biggest box-office winners to receive major nominations—“Get Out”—won best original screenplay for Jordan Peele.

Hosted for the second year in a row by ABC late-night star Jimmy Kimmel, the show ran nearly four hours, testing the endurance levels of even the most hard-core movie fans. There was no shortage of social commentary during the broadcast either, as the issues of sexual harassment and equal opportunities for women took center stage.

The Academy Awards was only the latest live broadcast to lose its sheen this year.

Social issues stole the show at the Academy Awards, with celebrities such as Guillermo del Toro, Lupita Nyong’o and Frances McDormand talking politics at the podium. Photo: ABC

The drop in viewing for the Oscars follows a ratings decline in January for the Grammy Awards, which also was heavily politicized. About 19.8 million people watched the Grammys on CBS, a 24% drop from 2017 and the smallest audience for the awards show since 2009.

Even the Super Bowl, the most-watched event on television in the U.S. each year, wasn’t immune from a shrinking audience. The Philadelphia Eagles’ upset win over the New England Patriots last month attracted 103.4 million viewers to NBC, the smallest TV audience for the National Football League’s championship game since 2009. There was no shortage of political controversy in the NFL last season, when players knelt during the playing of the national anthem as a protest against police violence and other issues.

Many on social media point to performers using their platform to espouse their political and social views as a factor in viewers tuning out. But the sheer number of entertainment choices is causing an industrywide decline in ratings across all TV programming. Live performances had, at least for a while, been the exception to the broader declines in TV viewing, as audiences recorded shows or turned to on-demand streaming services.

Commentary about the Oscars during the broadcast also fell on social media, according to data compiled by Brandwatch, a social-media monitoring company. During the three-hour and 50-minute telecast, the Oscars were mentioned about 2.5 million times on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, off from 3.7 million mentions a year ago.

Brandwatch attributed the decline to the pandemonium on social media at the conclusion of last year’s Oscars when the wrong movie—“La La Land”—was accidentally announced as Best Picture winner instead of the rightful winner, “Moonlight.”

Write to Joe Flint at

Appeared in the March 6, 2018, print edition as ‘Oscars Hit Sour Note With ABC Viewers.’

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