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Oscars 2021 Telecast Didn’t Crack Even the Year’s Top 100 Most-Viewed TV

The Academy Awards often end up as one of the 10 most-watched telecasts of a given year. Until 2021.

Director/Producer Chloe Zhao, winner of the award for best picture for "Nomadland," poses in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool)

Chloe Zhao at the 93rd Academy Awards


The 94th annual Academy Awards may have some triaging to do this year when the ceremony, after another protracted awards season, bows on March 27. Last year’s event took place on the very late date of April 27 due to the ongoing pandemic, and in downtown LA’s union station to a much smaller guest list. This year’s ceremony, produced by Hollywood polymath Will Packer, will return to its roots at the Dolby Theatre. But a recent recap of television ratings for 2021 compiled by Variety paints a bleak picture for viewership.

While 2020’s numbers the year “Parasite” won were considered to be a new all-time low (23.6 million), the April 2021 telecast drew just 10.4 million viewers, plunging nearly 60 percent. The 2020 show was no. 2 most-watched “entertainment” telecast — behind a Super Bowl airing of “The Masked Singer.”

This year’s Oscars telecast didn’t even crack the top 100 overall, with more viewers tuning into episodes of TV shows like “FBI,” “The Equalizer,” “NCIS,” and “Yellowstone,” all in the bottom 10 of the list, with the lowest at 11.120 million viewers, narrowly inching the Oscars out. (Also for comparison, the ABC specials “Oprah With Meghan and Harry” and “Adele One Night Only” fared better with viewership than the ABC-hosted Oscars.)

Awards shows in general suffered in 2021. The February Golden Globes dropped 62.3 percent compared to the previous year’s show. (And this coming January 9, the beleaguered Hollywood Foreign Press Association still plans to host a scaled-back awards ceremony of some kind to fete its honorees, despite endless scandal and industry indifference, even as the group has made efforts to diversify its voting body and nominees.) The Grammys plunged 53 percent compared to 2020. The overall trend suggests that whatever viewership awards shows lost in the pandemic, such decline is the new normal. And awards show are in trouble already in 2022, as ceremonies like the Critics Choice (CW) continue to delay their in-person events due to rising Covid cases.

That said, if the Academy manages to nominate “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” one of the biggest films of all time and now headed for more than $600 million domestic to save the pandemic box office, there’s a good chance Marvel fans (clearly the majority contingency of moviegoers right now) may tune in to the Oscars and help rehabilitate ratings. Last year’s Best Picture nominees were majority indie films that people simply couldn’t see with theaters closed, or watched on VOD later.

Hollywood powerhouse Packer is best known for his producing chops, but he’s a writer and sometimes actor, even starring as himself on occasion. He will need that energy and excitement as he and chief of staff Shayla Cowan tackle this year’s telecast — a and hope to reverse the negative reaction to last year’s pandemic-bespoke Oscars produced by Stacey Sher, Emmy nominee Jesse Collins, and Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. It’s a new year, and a new Oscars order.

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