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Oscars’ TV Ratings Up: Why Would That Be?

Jamie Lee Curtis OscarsJamie Lee Curtis at the Oscars: In movies since the original Halloween (1978), Curtis was the Best Supporting Actress winner for Everything Everywhere All at Once. Decades ago, father Tony Curtis was shortlisted for The Defiant Ones (1958); mother Janet Leigh for Psycho (1960).
  • The 2023 Oscars’ TV ratings were up a not inconsiderable 13 percent from 2022 and around 85 percent from 2021. What could be the reason?

2023 Oscars’ TV ratings: Up from last year – but still far below pre-pandemic viewership numbers

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Here are some good news for the battered – so white, so arty, so woke, so tackyAcademy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: The 2023 Oscar ceremony’s U.S. television ratings were up not insignificantly when compared to last year.

Approximately 18.8 million Americans watched (at least a segment of) the show broadcast on ABC, as Everything Everywhere All at Once bagged seven Oscar statuettes, including Best Picture, Best Directors for Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, and Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh.

That TV audience number is a healthy 13 percent increase compared to last year’s 16.6 million viewers (Best Picture: CODA, most awards: Dune). That’s also far above the 10.4 million who watched the Oscar ceremony during (one of) the height(s) of the COVID pandemic in 2021 (Best Picture/most awards: Nomadland).

The bad news for the Academy: That’s still 5 million fewer viewers than in 2020 (23.6 million; Best Picture/most awards: Parasite), 11 million fewer viewers than in 2019 (29.6 million; Best Picture: Green Book, most awards: Bohemian Rhapsody), and 14 million fewer viewers than in 2017 (32.9 million; Best Picture [after some confusion]: Moonlight, most awards: La La Land).

Worse yet, the key demo (18–49) rating was up only slightly: From 3.8 last year to 4.0.

Why have overall ratings gone up? From the easiest to the laziest explanation

Now, why did the Oscars’ TV ratings go up this year?

Barring an in-depth study on the topic, all we can do is speculate. Here are two possibilities:

The simplest – and perhaps the most likely – one is that U.S. TV watchers were hoping for another, huh, spontaneous moment along the lines of what happened at the previous Oscar ceremony, when eventual Best Actor winner Will Smith (King Richard) slapped and then loudly cursed at presenter Chris Rock after the latter made a crack in reference to the bald head of Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who suffers from a hair loss condition (alopecia).

The laziest – and perhaps the least likely – one is that U.S. TV watchers were rooting for the two Best Picture nominees that are also major global blockbusters, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water and Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick.

The Titanic effect?

But why laziest?

True, 57.2 million Americans watched Cameron’s mega-hit Titanic sail to victory in 11 categories in early 1998. If viewership numbers found online are accurate, that’s the highest Oscar audience since at least the mid-1970s – perhaps ever.

And yet, as found in these same online sources, Best Picture-nominated blockbusters haven’t always had a huge effect on TV viewership. Here are four examples (the title in parentheses is each year’s Best Picture nominee with the highest domestic gross):

  • 29.6 million viewers in 2019 (Ryan Coogler’s mega-blockbuster Black Panther) vs. 32.6 million viewers in 2017 (Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures).
  • 37.9 million viewers in 2011 (two mega-blockbusters shortlisted for Best Picture: Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3) vs. 40.4 million viewers in 2013 (Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln).
  • 41.7 million viewers in 2010 (James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster Avatar) vs. 42.1 million viewers in 2005 (Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator).
  • 46.2 million viewers in 1982 (Steven Spielberg’s mega-blockbuster Raiders of the Lost Ark) vs. 49 million viewers in 1980 (Robert Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer).

The Jimmy Kimmel effect?

Other possibilities for the Oscars’ higher TV ratings include:

  • U.S. TV audiences were curious to see how much more vulgar the ceremony would be under Jimmy Kimmel’s stewardship. The late-night talk show host/comedian had previously hosted the Oscars in 2017 (as stated further up, 32.9 million viewers) – when unwitting tourists were led into the theater to briefly mingle with the stars – and 2018 (when viewership plummeted to 26.5 million; Best Picture/most awards: Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water).
  • The Oscars – like the movies themselves – are regaining their pre-COVID popularity. We’ll just have to wait until 2024 to find out whether that’s indeed true.

Having said all that, we’re still betting that the Oscars’ TV watchers were hoping for another slap. Or at the very least for another Best Picture announcement snafu à la Moonlight/La La Land.

Or anything – perhaps with the exception of watching the host order pizza or sell Girl Scout Cookies – that didn’t feel like a rehash of the SAG Awards or the Golden Globes or the Critics’ Choice Awards.


“Oscars’ TV Ratings Up” notes

Jamie Lee Curtis Oscars’ screengrab: © Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences | ABC Network.

Once upon a time, a prestigious group of Academy members actually sent a letter of complaint to the powers-that-be in regard to the overall vulgarity of a particular show.

See also: Academy imposes tricky “Oscar Diversity” Best Picture quotas.

“Oscars’ TV Ratings Up: Why Would That Be?” last updated in March 2023.

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