Against a backdrop of controversy and protests surrounding the lack of minority nominees at this year’s Oscars, overnight ratings for Sunday’s ceremonies on ABC were down to what appears to be the show’s lowest number in eight years — though it remains far and away the top-rated kudocast on television.
In Nielsen’s metered market overnights, which include 56 of the nation’s largest markets, the “88th Annual Academy Awards “ averaged a still-big 23.4 household rating/36 share from 8:30 to midnight ET, down 6 percent from last year’s 25.0/38 and 16 percent below the 10-year high of 27.9/41 from two years ago.
The previous low-water mark in the overnights came in 2008 when the Jon Stewart-hosted Oscars delivered a 21.9/33. That show ended up averaging 32 million viewers, which is the smallest on record, according to Nielsen.
Total-viewer and demo estimates for last night’s Oscars will be released later this morning by Nielsen, but the telecast, which saw “Spotlight” win best picture and Leonardo DiCaprio win his first Oscar, is expected to finish in the vicinity of 34 million viewers. So, despite declines from recent years, it will easily remain television’s top-rated non-sports program of the year.
Last year’s show ended up averaging its smallest audience in six years (37.26 million) and a seven-year low in the 18-49 demo (11.0 rating/29 share) — down sharply from its especially high ratings of 2014 with Ellen DeGeneres as host (43.74 million, 13.1/33 in the demo). By comparison, this month’s Grammy Awards on CBS averaged a 7.7/24 in adults 18-49 and about 25 million total viewers.
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton led a boycott of Sunday’s ceremony in Los Angeles, with about 70 demonstrators marching in a rally to protest the second consecutive year of African-American actors being shut out of the major acting awards. He vowed that “this will be the last night of an all-white Oscars.”
Second-time Oscar host Chris Rock got mostly good reviews for his performance last night. Chief TV critic Maureen Ryan of Variety said he made the most of his opportunities, especially with his “scathing and generally well-crafted monologue.”
Nielsen is expected to release viewership totals for African-Americans on Tuesday. The minority typically makes up a small percentage of the overall Oscar viewing pie, with the high in the last 20 years coming when Rock hosted for the first time in 2005 (5.27 million) — a year that also featured prominent acting noms for African-American actors including Jamie Foxx and Don Cheadle. Last year, less than 10 percent of the overall Oscar viewership (3.29 million of 37.26 million) was black, according to Nielsen.
By Rick Kissell
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