Viewership for ABC’s Oscars telecast plummeted to 9.85 million viewers, according to preliminary figures released today by Nielsen, continuing the trend of record-low viewership for awards shows since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Viewership for Sunday’s host-less ceremony held at Union Station dropped 58% from the 23.569-million average for the 2020 ceremony, which had been a record low.
Final figures are scheduled to be released Tuesday, but are not expected to change significantly from those released Monday. The difference between preliminary and final figures for the Oscars is customarily between 100,000 and 300,000 viewers. The 2020 preliminary figure was 23.6 million viewers.
The Oscars’ drop follows a 62% decrease for the Golden Globe Awards from 18.323 million to 6.913 million, its smallest audience since returning to NBC in 1996, and a 50.6% decline for CBS’ coverage of the Grammy Awards from 18.69 million to a record-low 9.227 million.
Analysts have attributed this year’s awards shows’ declines to their being held in months they are usually not held and format changes prompted by coronavirus-related restrictions.
Viewership for all forms of programming has decreased in recent years, in part because of competition from streaming programs. Viewership for the Oscars has dropped substantially in recent years, which has been attributed to the lack of box office success of the best picture nominees.
The Oscar ceremonies since 2018 are the only ones to average less than 30 million viewers. Individual viewership figures have been kept since 1974. The Oscars have aired on ABC each year since 1976. Its contract with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to air them runs through 2028.
The most-watched Academy Awards ceremony was in 1998, when an average of 55.25 million viewers watched then-box office record-setter “Titanic” win the best picture Oscar. Billy Crystal was the host that year.
While the Oscars will retain its customary distinction as the television season’s most-watched awards show it will lose the title of the most- watched entertainment program to CBS’ post-Super Bowl premiere of the reimagined version of “The Equalizer,” which averaged 20.404 million viewers. The audience was the largest of an ABC prime-time program since last year’s Oscars and will top the weekly ratings which will be released Tuesday.
The Oscars will be the second ABC program in the 31-week-old 2020-21 prime-time season to finish first in the ratings, joining its two-hour town hall with Joe Biden, “The Vice President and the People,” the most-watched program in the season’s fourth week.
Among the benefits to ABC of carrying the Oscars include exposing viewers who don’t ordinarily watch its programming to promos of future programming. ABC aired promos for its first-season drama “Big Sky,” Sunday’s “American Idol” episode and the new season of “The Bachelorette” scheduled to begin June 7 on the Oscar telecast.