After all that, the Oscar ratings did indeed rise following last year’s lowest-rated telecast ever. Indeed, in the days following The Shape of Water’s Best Picture win in 2018, ABC convened a meeting with Academy members and offered “suggestions” to increase ratings for the next ceremony. These suggestions included introducing a Best Popular Film Oscar and handing out certain awards during the commercial break. Those changes were announced and then quickly reversed after the Academy received public shaming after public shaming, and yet even with none of those major changes, the Oscars telecast ratings were up for the first time in five years.
ABC reports that 29.6 million viewers tuned into the Oscars, scoring a 7.7 rating in the 18-49 demographic. That makes it TV’s most watched entertainment telecast in two years, and the first rise in viewership since Ellen DeGeneres hosted in 2014. It’s also up in total viewers versus last year’s 26.5 million—an all-time low for the Oscars—and up 13% in the demo.
So why did the ratings rise? Well for one, three of the Best Picture nominees were bona fide box office smashes. Black Panther ($1.3 billion worldwide), Bohemian Rhapsody ($860 million worldwide), and A Star Is Born ($424 million worldwide) were seen by loads of people, and no doubt led to a bit more interest in the Oscars than last year’s films. There was also the promise of seeing Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga perform “Shallow” live.
But it’s also important to note why ratings were down in the first place, and that’s because people watch TV very differently now than they did just 10 years ago. Live viewing is quickly becoming a thing of the past, and even then the Oscars continue to perform far better in the ratings than other awards shows like the Grammys (19.9 million viewers) and the Golden Globes (18.6 million viewers).
For all the hubbub surrounding the Kevin Hart hosting debacle, the show moved incredibly well with no host and the ratings reflect that aspect of the telecast didn’t necessarily turn viewers off. Indeed, given how well things went—and how the lack of a host brought the show’s runtime down to under three and a half hours—I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oscars move forward without a host for the foreseeable future. Or, perhaps if we head towards a year without major blockbuster films likely to score nominations, the Oscars do go back to finding a host to bring more viewers in.
ABC was obsessed with the notion of bringing the telecast in at or under three hours, which didn’t happen. And yet people still watched. Which seems to indicate it’s not exactly the runtime that turns viewers off, so hopefully they don’t try to revisit the whole “let’s give out some of the awards during the commercials” idea.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the interim. If ABC has more “ideas” to increase viewership, or if the Academy is left alone to craft a ceremony true to why people watch the Oscars in the first place. We’ll have to wait and see, but for now the network can breathe a sigh of relief that at least the numbers weren’t down yet again.