The 2021 Oscars Were the Least Watched Ever

Photo: Richard Harbaugh/A.M.P.A.S./Shutterstock

Sunday’s pandemic-era Academy Awards were the least watched in the show’s broadcast history, with an average audience of approximately 10 million U.S. viewers, per preliminary national Nielsen data. That’s less than half of the viewership of the previous Oscars laggard, the 2020 ceremony, which was seen by 23.6 million viewers in February of last year. The rock-bottom performance will surprise absolutely nobody with even a passing knowledge of the TV industry: Observers had been predicting this plunge for months, both because of the overall trend of awards-show-ratings declines (before and after the coronavirus hit) and as a result of an unprecedented scenario in which most of the nominated movies were barely seen in actual theaters.

There’s no way to sugarcoat the numbers — they’re awful! — but before Oscar’s perpetual critics get carried away, it is worth noting that the show’s year-to-year percentage declines are in line with some other recent kudocasts. The Grammys, for example, got great reviews and yet still collapsed by 53 percent, to just 8.8 million music fans. NBC’s mostly panned Golden Globes dropped 62 percent, to a not so nice 6.9 million. We don’t know the exact percentage decline for Oscar since ABC won’t release final numbers — including out-of-home viewing — until Tuesday. Right now, the Nielsen estimate for the show is 9.85 million viewers and a 1.9 rating among adults under 50. It is quite possible the Oscars will end up at just over 10 million viewers and a 2.0 in the key demo, but even if so, the annual decline should end up somewhere from 56 percent to 58 percent below the 2020 low-water mark. Again, that’s really bad, given Oscar’s historic Nielsen supremacy and how much more ABC pays for the show compared to other awards broadcasts. But for all the social-media buzz about what a terrible show this was, not to mention conservative commentators who want to cite ratings drops as evidence that Hollyweird Is Out of Touch With America, it seems not insignificant that the 93rd annual Academy Awards lost roughly the same percentage of viewers as all the other big ceremonies. It is awards shows that are being challenged, not just the Oscars.

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The 2021 Oscars Were the Least Watched Ever