The Oscars' Ratings Are In And Yikes

The 92 annual Academy Awards featured some truly surprising wins, among other shocking and conversation-starting moments. From Bong Joon-ho's Parasite taking home the Best Picture trophy to Joker's score composer Hildur Guðnadóttir continuing her impressive sweep, the night was full of positivity, musical performances and speeches that skewed more personal than political. Though many viewers tuned in to see what was in store this year, the Oscars actually had its smallest audience ever in 2020.

According to Nielsen's earliest numbers, around 23.6 million people were watching the Oscars on ABC on Sunday night. That number might be good for one of ABC's scripted comedies, but it was a disappointing turnout for the biggest night of the year in cinema. The same goes for the ceremony's ratings total in the key 18-49 age demographic, which reached an otherwise-impressive 5.3.

In comparison, the 2020 viewership total was a 20% dropoff from the 2019 Academy Awards, which hit 29.6 million viewers, equalling a whopping six-million-viewer loss from year to year. That telecast also earned a 7.7 demo rating for viewers aged 18-49, which this year's Oscars wasn't even close to reaching.

This year's Oscars clocked in with a smaller audience than the previous all-time low, which was only tallied back in 2018. That year's broadcast, which was the last to have had an official host in Jimmy Kimmel, was watched by 26.5 million people. Prior to that, the awards show had never seen an audience of fewer than 32 million people in all of the years that it's been televised. And this year's crowd was nearly 3 million less than that audience.

To be sure, this year's Oscars were available to stream for those who weren't tuning in on linear TV, so it's possible the online audience would help balance out the startling viewership dip. It's unknown if ABC will release any information regarding the Oscars' streaming traffic.

A trend has definitely emerged in recent years when it comes to audiences for live awards ceremonies. Though ABC is proud to hold the 2020 Oscars up as being the most-watched awards telecast of any in the past year, it's quite clear that the TV staple's heyday has long passed. That said, it theoretically shouldn't be too hard for ABC & Co. to figure out ways to draw in a bigger crowd than the smallest audience ever.

This year's broadcast was the second in a row to go without a central host, following last year's kerfuffle in which potential host Kevin Hart dropped out after a controversy involving old social media posts. After last year's Oscars witnessed a spike in viewers compared to the year before, perhaps the producers thought that was a specific reason for the uptick. Not that there's a true way to measure how much the lack of a host led to this year's lowest-ever ratings, but it will be interesting to see if execs decide to reverse course by bringing someone back to lead things in 2021.

Despite the low-end ratings, the Oscars still made quite a splash on social media, with ABC reporting a 19% increase over traffic in 2019. That increase is pretty fascinating considering there were six million fewer viewers, but there were a ton of moments for people to share on Twitter and beyond. Billie Eilish's "Yesterday" performance over the In Memoriam segment has gotten a ton of attention, as have acceptance speeches from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's Brad Pitt, Parasite's Bong Joon-ho, Joker's Joaquin Phoenix and more.

Did you tune into the 2020 Oscars? Let us know in the comments why you did or didn't, and stay tuned for news about next year's ceremony as it develops. Looking for the best of the best TV that's on the way? Look no further than our Winter and Spring premiere schedule.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.