ABC executives and much of Hollywood can breathe a sigh of relief.
Viewership totals for ABC’s telecast of the 95th Academy Awards on Sunday night rose for a second consecutive year, drawing 18.7 million people, according to Nielsen.
Even so, it was the third-least-watched Oscars on record. The standards for success in awards show ratings have been scrambled in recent years, however, as viewers increasingly turn away from much of live television in favor of on-demand streaming entertainment.
Only 10.4 million people watched the pared-down pandemic edition of the Oscars in 2021, setting off alarm bells within ABC and the entire entertainment industry. Last year’s Oscars attracted 16.6 million, with viewership swelling after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock onstage. Before 2018, the telecast had never dropped below 32 million.
Sunday’s Oscars had a few things going for it. Superstars like Rihanna and Lady Gaga performed nominated songs. Two films up for best picture grossed more than $1 billion at the box office — “Top Gun: Maverick” collected $1.5 billion, and “Avatar: The Way of Water” took in $2.3 billion. And the best picture winner, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” generated $104 million in ticket sales. Viewership tends to increase when popular films are nominated.
In the run-up to Sunday’s ceremony, the academy tapped new marketing partners like Letterboxd, a social media site for movie fans (with 8.4 million members, most of them ages 18 to 34), and increased its promotional efforts on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.
Viewership among adults under 50 grew by 5 percent when compared with last year’s Oscars, according to Nielsen.
The ceremony was hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, and might have been notable for the simplest thing: avoiding controversy. Reviews were mixed, with some critics praising the show’s traditional look and feel, and others being turned off by what Mike Hale described in The New York Times as a “promotional, exhortatory, shrink-wrapped” ceremony.
The evening had plenty of tears, with all four acting winners (Brendan Fraser, Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis) giving emotionally charged speeches. In a change, most of the winners avoided soliloquies about politics, aspects of speeches that academy research has shown make people grab the remote.
Several pieces of data now point to a live events ratings turnaround this year. The Grammy Awards rebounded to 12.5 million viewers this year, up from 9.6 million last year. And last month the Super Bowl drew 113 million viewers, the second-highest viewership total in the game’s history.
As recently as two years ago, the Oscars seemed vulnerable to losing its long-ranking status as the most-watched entertainment program in American television. Its position had became so weak that HBO programmed the finale of its hugely popular freshman drama, “The Last of Us,” opposite the Oscars on Sunday night. (When “The Last of Us” went head-to-head against the Super Bowl last month, network executives released that week’s episode on a Friday on HBO Max; the network did not bother deploying that get-out-in-front-of-it strategy for the Oscars.) HBO said on Monday that the finale drew a season high of 8.2 million viewers.
ABC has the broadcast rights to the Oscars through 2028, and the network provides the academy with roughly 80 percent of its annual revenue. The academy reported that the 2022 Oscars generated $137.1 million, almost all of it coming from Disney, ABC’s parent company, for the domestic and international licensing rights.
ABC said on Friday that it had sold out its Oscars inventory; Pfizer, Rolex and Verizon were the lead sponsors. The network did not divulge its prices, but advertising buyers said ABC had charged between $1.6 million and $2.1 million for a 30-second spot, down slightly from the previous year.
And as ratings have slumped, ABC has increased the number of ads it places in the Oscars telecast. Last year, it collected about $139 million across 70 commercials, according to Vivvix, which tracks ad spending. In 2021, ABC pulled in $129 million across 56 ads. The red carpet preshow brings in roughly $16 million annually.