Why the Oscar’s TV Ratings Have Hit a Potential All-Time Low

March 5, 2018, 6:26 PM UTC

UPDATE: The official tally from Nielsen shows that ABC’s telecast of the 90th Academy Awards averaged just 26.5 million television viewers, a decline of 20% over last year’s show and the ceremony’s worst viewership ever.

The telecast for the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday dragged on for almost four hours and, in the end, Oscar voters picked few surprise winners. But, perhaps the least surprising result of the night was the fact that television ratings for Hollywood’s most glamorous evening continued their years-long decline.

Early numbers from media measurement service Nielsen show that the 2018 Oscars ratings may have been some of the lowest ever recorded. Nielsen reported an 18.9 overnight household rating for Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, which marks a rating drop of 16% from the 22.4 rating produced by last year’s telecast. (Nielsen’s household ratings measure the percentage of homes in the company’s metered markets watching a specific program or event.)

Last year’s Oscars telecast ultimately drew about 32.9 million total TV viewers, which was the smallest Academy Awards audience since 2008, hosted by comedian Jon Stewart, attracted 31.8 million viewers. The 2008 Oscars were reportedly the event’s lowest-rated telecast ever, though last night’s show looks like its ratings could come in significantly lower, potentially below 29 million viewers.

Host network ABC’s own late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel hosted the event each of the past two years, including during the much talked-about Best Picture envelope snafu at the end of the 2017 awards. Any number of factors are often blamed for a low-rated award show, from an unpopular host to an unnecessarily long telecast or even nominees’ left-leaning politics.

One reason already being offered for the latest dip in Oscars ratings is the fact that this year’s crop of Best Picture nominees featured few, if any, box-office blockbusters. In fact, the highest box-office gross among the Best Picture nominees belonged to the intense World War II drama Dunkirk ($525 million worldwide), which came up short in the major categories but ultimately went home with three Oscars for film editing and sound editing and mixing. The second highest-grossing movie among the primary nominees was Get Out, with $255 million, which did win director and screenwriter Jordan Peele an historic Oscar for its screenplay in one of Sunday night’s most talked-about moments.

But, a driving factor for the Oscars’ recent ratings decline is almost certainly the rapidly-changing viewing habits of TV audiences, more and more of whom are choosing to stream their favorite content online (including on social media) rather than watching live on TV. Notably, Nielsen’s early ratings do not include digital and mobile viewership (though ABC only allowed viewers with cable subscriptions or live-TV streaming subscriptions to stream last night’s Oscars broadcast).

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Ratings for live broadcasts, including award shows and sporting events, have been steadily declining for several years now. However, those broadcasts still routinely rank as the most-watched TV broadcasts each year, with last year’s Oscars ratings making the ceremony the fourth most-watched TV program, behind only Super Bowl LI and the NFL’s two conference championships, even with the program’s ratings then at a nine-year low.