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Oscars Ratings: 2021 Telecast Loses More Than Half Last Year’s Audience

As was widely expected, the first Oscars during the pandemic saw steep losses in line with other COVID-era awards shows.

Oscars 2021 Daniel Kaluuya THE OSCARS® - The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station Los Angeles and the Dolby® Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and international locations via satellite. "The Oscars" will be televised live on ABC at 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT and in more than 200 territories worldwide. (ABC/AMPAS)DANIEL KALUUYA

Daniel Kaluuya at the 2021 Oscars

ABC / AMPAS

Yes, the 93rd Academy Awards broadcast hit an all-time ratings low, but it’s not all bad news for movies’ biggest night.

First, the cold, hard numbers: Per preliminary data from the Nielsen Live+Same Day ratings system, this year’s Oscars telecast drew 9.85 million total viewers and a 1.9 rating among the key demographic of adults 18-49. That’s a drop-off of 58.3 percent from the 2020 telecast, which pulled in 23.64 million viewers and landed a 5.3 rating.

These ratings mark all-time lows for the Oscars, following last year’s all-time lows.

However, the Academy Awards are not alone. Live TV viewership has been on a steady decline for some time now. Awards shows overall have struggled to maintain viewership, as fans choose to engage via social media and watch clips from the ceremonies online, on their own schedule. The pandemic has led to 50 percent or higher viewership declines for the Golden Globes (which lost the highest percentage of viewers), the SAG Awards, and the Grammys (which saw the lowest loss percentage). The Emmys, meanwhile, only dipped 12 percent for its 2020 pandemic telecast, though its viewership was already relatively low.

A year-to-year breakdown of popular awards shows:

  • Golden Globes: 18.3 million viewers in 2020 / 6.9 million viewers in 2021
  • The Oscars: 23.6 million / 9.85 million
  • SAG Awards: 2 million / .96 million
  • The Grammys: 18.7 million / 8.8 million
  • The Emmys: 6.9 million / 6.1 million

This year’s ratings still make the Oscars the most-watched awards show out there, and its early totals delivered ABC its highest nightly viewership since an NBA Finals game in October 2020. That alone should help the show keep selling ad space, as advertisers continue to crave increasingly scarce live audiences, and ABC’s parent company made the most of its platform, as well, with ads for Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Disney’s “Cruella,” and the Disney+ bundle (including upcoming MCU series “Loki”). Disney also inserted advertisements for its resorts during the Oscars 90-minute pre-show, milking synergy for all that it’s worth — and keeping the Oscars a valuable asset for similar plugs in the future.

All that being said, the trend for awards shows is troubling, even when discounting the pandemic’s effects. The Oscars has lost viewership every year since 2014, save for 2019, and 2020’s numbers came in not only lower than the previous year’s, but lower than the previous low in 2018. In other words, the arrow is still stubbornly pointing down, regardless of the pandemic.

Now, we wait. What will happen with the first awards show that gets fully back to “normal”? Where there are crowds, buzz, and a full red carpet? When films and TV shows haven’t been delayed and thus kept out of awards contention? Will ratings tick upward, back toward their pre-pandemic lows, or are these seven-digit totals here to stay?

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