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Oscars Draw 16.6 Million Viewers, the Show’s Second Smallest Audience of All Time

Sunday's 94th Academy Awards rebounded by 58 percent from 2021's all-time low.

Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes at the 94th Academy Awards

Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes at the 94th Academy Awards

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Sunday’s Oscars drew 16.6 million total viewers on ABC, according to Nielsen’s Live + Same Day national numbers, a significant improvement from 2021’s record low. (But it is still the second-worst Oscars of all time.) In the key demo of adults 18-49, the 94th Academy Awards received a 3.8 rating. These numbers are 58 percent and 73 percent better, respectively, than last year’s record lows from the same data set.

The April 25, 2021 Academy Awards settled for a nightmarish 10.5 million total viewers and a 2.2 rating in the main demo. Fourteen-and-a-half months earlier, the pre-Covid Feb. 9, 2020 Oscars managed 23.6 million total viewers, which had previously set a record low for the annual celebration of cinema.

The most-watched Academy Awards ever came in 1998, when “Titanic” won Best Picture. That broke the 1995 record of 48.3 million total viewers, when “Forrest Gump” bested “Pulp Fiction” and “Shawshank Redemption” (as well as “Quiz Show” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) to claim the evening’s final trophy.

The 2022 Oscars (ho-)hummed along until comedian Chris Rock took the stage to present the award for best documentary. A few minutes before 10:30 p.m. ET, Rock cracked a few jokes, including a shot at Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair. That enraged her husband, actor Will Smith, who stormed the stage and slapped Rock in the face. The man who would go on to win best actor later last night for his title role in “King Richard” then returned to his seat in the audience and shouted profanities at Rock. For this and other reasons, the 94th Oscars ran roughly 40 minutes beyond the end of primetime for the east coast.

“CODA” won Sunday’s Best Picture award, besting “Belfast,” “Don’t Look Up,” “Dune,” “Drive My Car,” “King Richard,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Nightmare Alley,” “The Power of the Dog,” and “West Side Story.” Find all of the 2022 Oscar winners.

This year, Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes hosted the annual ABC special. The Oscars had previously gone host-less for three straight years.

Though last year’s Academy Awards faced more challenges, 2022’s Oscars had a number of things working against them as well. Of this year’s 10 Best Picture nominees, only one, “West Side Story,” even had an awareness level north of 50 percent (it’s 55 percent), according to a Screen Engines/ASI poll conducted in early March and published by the Los Angeles Times last week. The 2022 Best Picture nominee with the lowest awareness level was “Drive My Car,” which came in at just 9 percent. “CODA,” Sunday’s biggest winner, had the second-lowest awareness and viewership levels at 14 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

Previous versions of this story used the earlier-available fast affiliate numbers and fast national numbers for the 94th Oscars. In the earliest-available data set, the fast affiliates, Nielsen tabulated 13.7 million total viewers and a 2.9 rating in the key demo. Those initial returns rose to 15.4 million total viewers and a 3.2 key-demo rating in fast nationals.

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