The 2021 Oscars certainly had some controversy, but what they apparently didn’t have was a lot of eyeballs pointing at them. Ratings for the latest edition of the Academy Awards set records in a bad way, with reports indicating a 58 percent drop in viewership from 2020.
As Variety detailed, Sunday night’s telecast was the lowest-rated ceremony since 2018, which was the previous low in the event’s history. No matter how you look at the numbers, it’s pretty bleak.
Per Nielsen Live+Same Day preliminary national numbers, an average of 9.85 million viewers tuned in on Sunday evening to watch a more intimate and stripped-down version of the Oscars in the midst of a pandemic. That’s a 58.3%, 13.75 million viewer drop-off from last year. The Academy’s third host-less show in a row scored a 1.9 rating among adults 18-49 in the fast national ratings, a 64.2% dip from 2020.
For comparison, last year’s ceremony garnered a 5.3 rating in the key demographic and 23.6 million viewers per the night’s time-zone adjusted fast national charts.
In other words, the Oscars lost more viewers from last year than actually watched the show on Sunday night.
Why viewers didn’t show up is anyone’s guess, and given the circumstances, it’s likely any educated guess can nail at least one factor in what’s going wrong for the fledgling event. The host-less format didn’t go over well with critics, and pandemic safety rules have made every live televised event land somewhere in the entertainment uncanny valley of sorts. There’s also the issue of actually seeing the movies nominated for awards in the first place. With theaters closed across the country for large portions of the pandemic-stricken year and many still hesitant to see films in person, the award-worthy films may have been overlooked by huge portions of the potential audience unable to see them in more traditional ways.
There’s also the continued fragmentation of viewership across cable, streaming, and other entertainment options after a fatigued public after a difficult year for basically everyone. Whether viewers weren’t interested in a Steven Soderberg-directed broadcast or simply didn’t want to watch maskless celebrities accept awards is anyone’s guess, but the numbers here do not paint a pretty picture.