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Oscars Telecast Ratings at 8-Year Low. Is Nielsen Right About Correlation Between Black Nominees & Viewers?

Oscars Telecast Ratings at 8-Year Low. Is Nielsen Right About Correlation Between Black Nominees & Viewers?

Ratings for last night’s Oscars broadcast hit 8-year lows according to overnight data. No surprise really – especially if you’re a regular of this blog.

As highlighted here in the past, Nielsen data has told us over the years that there is a direct correlation between the number of black nominees, and total viewers of the actual broadcast…

“With remarkable consistency, African-American viewers have showed up in large numbers to watch the Oscar broadcast when it featured a strong lineup of black nominees. But black viewers have gone missing when the core African-American presence was diminished, as it is this year,” said the Nielsen/New York Times piece a year ago.

So can we attribute this year’s significant drop in viewership to an absence of black viewers, who boycotted the broadcast because of the lack of expected black nominees?

Consider that, according to Nielsen, 5 times in the last 10 years, the Oscar broadcast has drawn more than 40 million viewers. And in all five instances, the black audience was almost solely responsible for driving that figure above 40 million, if only because each of those 5 years included multiple black nominees (and winners) in key categories, like Forest Whitaker, Eddie Murphy, Djimon Hounsou, Will Smith and Jennifer Hudson in 2007; Denzel Washington and Quvenzhané Wallis, along with “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Django Unchained,” in 2013; Barkhad Abdi, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, John Ridley, and Steve McQueen, in addition to “12 Years a Slave” itself for Best Picture in 2014 – which saw a 10-year high in terms of viewership that year!

With this year’s figures at the lowest since 2008, I, of course, checked to see how many black nominees there were that year (2008) in major categories: there was only one in a key category – Ruby Dee for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “American Gangster” as Mahalee Jones Lucas. She didn’t win by the way. And in the other 5 years of the last decade, when Oscar viewership was below 40 million, there were also zero to very few black nominees.

The second best year in terms of Oscar viewership ratings was in 2005, when, coincidentally, Chris Rock hosted the show (his first time), and several black actors were nominated, including Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx (who was nominated in 2 different categories that year – a rarity), Morgan Freeman and Sophie Okonedo; also the film “Ray” was nominated for best picture; “Hotel Rwanda” for Best Original Screenplay, and “Tupac: Resurrection” for Best Documentary. Roughly 5.3 million black viewers tuned in, according to Nielsen, helping to lift the show’s draw to over 42 million viewers.

Why does any of this matter, you might be wondering? Well, a drop in ratings is not a good thing for any broadcast, including the Academy Awards show. As the Nielsen piece states, “The Oscar telecast generates by far the biggest part of the Academy’s $151.5 million annual revenue, and maintaining high ratings is essential to its financial success. Academy leaders are also aware that a failure to attract a diverse audience risks making the awards less relevant to new generations of viewers.”

So there you have it: money; profit. Isn’t that what it always comes down to? So, a significant drop in ratings would, of course, be of enormous concern for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has been a frequent target over the years for its overwhelmingly white membership.

Seemingly to help avoid an expected ratings slump this year (likely because they were aware of what past data shows), especially considering social media campaigns calling for a boycott of the Oscars telecast for the lack of diversity among its nominees, producers of the show peppered up its list of presenters and performers with a long list of black talents, including Kevin Hart, Kerry Washington, Abraham Attah, Common, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Louis Gossett, Jr., and others – all gracing the stage at various moments throughout the ceremony. And, of course, the host, Chris Rock.

Last year, ABC aggressively promoted the telecast during shows in its lineup with large African American followings, like “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder” and “black-ish.” The network was said to have even run ads for the Oscar telecast on black cable TV network, BET! I can’t say I noticed that similar push this year as well, although it wouldn’t surprise me if there was indeed pressure, all things considered.

Obviously, it’s hard not to assume that there was an intent there to draw and maintain black audiences.

Evidently, it doesn’t look like it worked, given this year’s ratings being at an 8-year low.

So, essentially, like a lot of things, it comes down to dollars and cents. There is money to made in diversity. And maybe the studio movie business will eventually catch up to the TV business, where there’s seemingly more diversity, as more and more TV networks are beginning to recognize the ratings and profit potential in producing content for not just black audiences by the way. Diversity is more than just black and white.

Did you, or did you not watch the Oscars last night? If so, thoughts in general…

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Ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun… and black folks got the last laugh this time… or did they? Well, I flipped a coin to determine which awards show I’d watch (Tails = Oscars. Heads = All Digital Def Awards) it landed on "heads". Now, without any reservations I deem the All Digital Def Awards as horrible… a cringe worthy mess. I was so disappointed I started my, (CC’s) first annual " Sit Yo A$$ Down Awards". The first winner is All Def Digital’s director, whoever he or she was, they should "SIT THEIR A$$ DOWN" somewhere. The show missed the mark in several areas under their responsibility (I’ll get back to that). The second award goes to the audience. They were, for the most part, a stiff, lifeless bunch who appeared lost. They should all "SIT THEIR A$$ES DOWN" somewhere. Their spirit was flat, to say the least. Listen, I’ve alway believed that if you give a smile you’ll receive one in return. Unfortunately those clods gave me bewilderment and hesitancy, as they looked around the room as if seeking approval to laugh, or as if wondering when to laugh. But in their defense, the show appeared to lack direction. Many skits were too long or too flat, which left the stars looking stupid. The butler didn’t do it, the director did. The last CC said "Sit Yo A$$ Down Award" is a tie. The winners are the show’s writers and some "Goldie" winners. But wait, did you catch that? The trophy was an image of the pimp "Goldie" from the movie The Mack, I kid you not. Anyway, the show’s writer(s) and some Goldie winners should "Sit Yo A$$ Down" for the inappropriate use of the N-Word. I cringed every time (50 or more times) that word was said. And some said it with a smile on their face, as if it was cool, hip or expected. Needless to say, I was very disappointed in the program. That said, it did have some moments in which I literally stood up and applauded. Overall, trite but true, we gotta do better.


1. Turn Oscars into a boring four-hour lecture on race. 2. Get lowest rating in almost a decade. 3. Blame ratings on lack of diversity. 4. Well played, Chris Rock.


@LBW….think you’re trolling but in 2016 who can tell anymore. In case you really believe what you wrote, other groups place number of their people who got Oscar nom.s as either a low priority or an afterthought. Sooner you figure out that white people don’t give a F about you, nor should they…the better. Think about how much time and thought you’ve given to the concerns of the Laotian community. That’s how much time white people have spent thinking about Blacks. Get it?


No other Race was nominated, so why none of them spoke out but the Black race. They are too scared of making the white man mad at them yet they want to trash us as a race for speaking up. When will they understand that keeping your mouth shut will not get you no where.

Miles Ellison

Given all the hand-wringing about the very existence of any black characters on The Walking Dead, the social media pronouncements that people were going to watch it instead of the Oscars was either a statement about the diversity narrative or unintentionally ironic.


Worst host ever, a 5 min. Lecture about racism should have been enough. The Academy should have bleeped him. Hope he’s done for good…..


Chris Rock was not that funny but his "comedic" posturing on "Oscarism" was entertaining.


I watched an hour of it, caught the opening monologue on social media. Then I watched the All Def Movie Awards on Fusion where black actors and black films were being celebrated.


Didn’t watch because I knew the were counting on blacks to watch to hear what Chris Rock was going to say; and this would only boost their ratings.


I didn’t watch because there was little for me to be excited about. I don’t understand the nominations and I think something is very wrong with how people are voting. For example: How does Sam Smith win out over Wiz Khalifa when the latter went to #1 and Sam reached only #71 on the same chart for their soundtrack contributions?

C.Ann Huntley

I quit watching because Chris Rock was unfunny. I got tired not only of the white bashing, but of the white audience laughing at it… like "yay, you’re being rude to us, making fun of us… that’s so awesome"…and then when some winner (screenwriter, soundtrack??) starting telling us how to vote… yeah, I was done with it.


I was watching Black Twitter. For the Oscars and more importantly Flint news.

Najee ali

Why would I watch an all white Oscar’s. I’m not going to watch the black elite give out awards to the white elite. It a message that you black folks aren’t worthy enough to be nominated .you’re job is to present white people their oscars awards


I didn’t watch anything related to the "Oscars." Nor did I watch the "Oscars." I was clear I wanted to bring those ratings down.(lol)


I did as I normally do. Watched the red carpet and the monologue. Then I changed the channel to The Walking Dead.



Funny Tatiana, I was also washing my hair and streaming JusticeforFlint.

But regardless of the Boycott, I never intended to watch the Oscars and I never do, because the program is boring. No matter what films are nominated, this telecast is just not good. The Tony Awards, on the other hands, are a fantastic production that we watch every year.


How bout they have the sound, costume design, and editing awards handed out earlier. Can we stop the panning as the actors faces are above the presenter, with a presentation of each ones role in the movie. Then clips from each actor and actresses role. (Though I like how they did the original and adapted screenplays.)


People probably tuned out because it was a 4 hour lecture.


People will believe what they want, but considering the mass announcements on social media that people were going to watch The Walking Dead at 9 o’clock, it’s idiotic to pretend this had anything to do with the diversity narrative.


The ratings for the Oscars are always low. Won’t change anything. Just glad the show is over so the whining can cease because they could care less, low ratings or not.


Calls out Stacey Dash and it’s like she isn’t there. And she comes out! ‘Mic drop’ Leslie Jones playing a bear and Chris raising 65K in one night for girl scout cookies. And yall missed it.


I was washing my hair…and rocking out, sending love, support and a donation for the people of Flint! #JusticeforFlint


I watched the first 20 minutes and then changed over to Fox to watch their animated shows. I didn’t get a chance to watch all of the nominated films this year, so I had no reference or real interest in the show. I did see Spotlight, but I don’t understand how that film won anything. Regarding Chris Rock’s opening, I only laughed at one joke and I don’t remember what it was. (The laughter when he talked about grandmothers being hung…man) It was all very uncomfortable to watch.

Marcus B Like

Chris Rock failed at being funny and pointed at the same time. 2016 looks like an exciting film year with diverse titles and my favorite filmmakers and actors of all persuasions vying for slots in the final five.

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