Last night’s Oscars were poised to be one of the biggest telecasts in a while, what with the racial controversy swirling around the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the promise of a long-awaited win for perennial bridesmaid Leonardo DiCaprio, and the resolution to the hotly contested Best Documentary Short race. (That last one’s a joke.) There were plenty of populist favorites in the Best Picture running, too, with The Revenant, Spotlight, The Big Short, and Mad Max: Fury Road all wielding more mass appeal than, say, 12 Years A Slave or The Artist. All things considered, the 88th annual Academy Awards should’ve been a smash.
And yet, Entertainment Weekly has now relayed figures from Nielsen indicating that last night’s telecast was the least-watched in years. EW‘s item cites an estimated 23.1 household rating in major markets with a 37 share, but those are all just numbers, and mean nothing without context. So consider that these numbers represent a 6 percent dip from last year’s viewership figures, and actually rank as the lowest Oscar ratings in eight years, since Jon Stewart’s exquisitely uncomfortable hosting gig in 2008. (Frontrunners There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men didn’t exactly draw huge crowds.) The ceremony will still easily rank as the most-watched non-sports program on television this year with an estimated 34 million total viewers, but relative to the expected ratings, the Oscar producers are going to be less than pleased. No way they’re pinning this on host Chris Rock, who did a bang-up job by anyone’s measure, though the dire ratings this year may still have a racial component. Perhaps large-scale boycotts from black audiences in response to the all-white slate of major nominees was the culprit behind this dip in the numbers, with civil-rights activist Al Sharpton having rallied his supporters to tune out this year’s telecast. While alarms are probably ringing at AMPAS headquarters, this development could be good news for the folks at home. Once it becomes clear that racial equality and respect for diversity is actually pretty profitable, change might actually happen.