Academy Awards Ratings Rise with Hit Movies Yet Far from Record Heights

The allure of Hollywood’s most glamorous night appeared to regain some of its sparkle as an estimated 19.5 million viewers tuned in to ABC on Sunday evening for the 96th Academy Awards ceremony. This represents the highest viewership for the Oscars in four years, but the increase is a moderate surge rather than a blockbuster triumph. It’s worth noting that last year’s audience counted 18.7 million. The 4% rise this year, according to ABC’s Monday announcement, stems from an all-time viewership low during the pandemic era.

In a bid to recapture the audience’s interest, the Oscars made notable changes to its approach. The ceremony was moved an hour earlier and, for the first time in recent memory, featured a roster of highly popular films with multiple nominations, such as “Barbie” and “Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer,” that a majority of viewers had actually watched.

The broadcast’s viewership peaked in the final 30 minutes. This crescendo witnessed Ryan Gosling deliver a memorable rendition of “I’m Just Ken” from “Barbie,” Cillian Murphy claiming the best actor accolade, Christopher Nolan being honored as best director for “Oppenheimer,” and Al Pacino’s idiosyncratic best picture announcement for the film. Emma Stone added to the climactic segment by winning the best actress award in what was one of the night’s most fiercely contested categories. Nearly 22 million viewers were captivated by her moment of triumph.

Despite these highlights, a potential impact on the start of the live telecast may have been caused by delays due to protests outside the Dolby Theatre, which slowed down the arrivals of attendees. Host Jimmy Kimmel commenced the ceremony approximately six minutes later than planned, though it remains uncertain whether this had any significant effect on the overall ratings.

“Everything, Everywhere All at Once,” last year’s Oscar heavyweight, enjoyed a respectable global box office return of $143 million. However, this paled in comparison to the financial successes of the “Barbenheimer” films— with “Oppenheimer” nearing the billion-dollar mark and “Barbie” surpassing it. Yet, even these box office giants failed to inflate the Oscars’ viewership to the levels that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and ABC might have anticipated.

Despite the modest ratings increase, the Oscars did manage to eclipse other major awards shows in terms of viewership, including the Grammys which attracted 16.9 million viewers in February, as well as the Golden Globes and the Emmy Awards, both of which had far fewer viewers earlier in the year.

There was a time when the Academy Awards ranked as the second most-watched television event of the year after the Super Bowl. Up until 2018, Oscar viewership had never dipped below 30 million, per Nielsen records, with a pinnacle of 55 million tuning in to watch “Titanic” make a sweep back in 1998.

The steady decline from 43.7 million in 2014 to 26.5 million in 2018 was briefly interrupted with a viewership rise to 29.6 million in 2019, only to fall to 23.6 million in 2020. The pandemic struck a severe blow to the 2021 Oscars, which bottomed out at a measly 9.85 million views, followed by a slight rebound to 16.6 million in 2022—the infamous year of “the Slap.”

It is not simply about the films or their creators; the shifting generational trends towards streaming and other video forms have significantly eroded traditional broadcast television viewership. Few events, barring the Super Bowl, continue to command the massive audiences of yesteryears.

On a related note, thanks to the Oscars lead-in, ABC’s sitcom “Abbott Elementary” secured a series high viewership of 6.9 million. The episode smartly tied itself to the Oscars, featuring Bradley Cooper in a guest spot undergoing a roast in a classroom after a demanding Oscar campaign season.

The Oscars may not have recaptured their historic ratings glory, but with blockbuster films in play and a slight uptick in interest, Hollywood’s big night still manages to hold a place in the cultural spotlight.

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