It was a historic 92nd Academy Awards with a first Best Picture recipient not in the English language in Parasite adding an element of surprise to a largely predictable winners list. There was something historic in the ratings for the 2020 Oscars too — a historic low.
Last year, the Academy Awards bet on no host, kicked off the night with an energetic performance by Queen and Adam Lambert, employed “not hosts” with Saturday Night Live pedigree (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph) to do an opening monologue, kept the show’s length under 3.5 hours and created a musical moment with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance of “Shallow.”
The result was the Oscars’ first ratings increase in five years, so the Academy and ABC tried to replicate the formula Sunday: no traditional host, high-octane opening number by Janelle Monae. monologue by SNL regular Steve Martin and alum Chris Rock, and a surprise music performance by Eminem aimed at creating a buzzy moment.
But the ceremony, which clocked in at 3 hours and 36 minutes — up from 3 hours, 23 minutes in 2019 — could not repeat last year’s ratings turnaround, drawing 23.6 million total viewers and a 5.3 rating in the adults 18-49 demographic, based on Nielsen’s Live+Same Day Fast National ratings ordered by ABC. That is down sharply, -20% in viewers and -31% in the demo ,from last year’s 29.6 million viewers and a 7.7 adults 18-49 rating. It also is down double-digits from the Oscars’ previous smallest audience, 26.5 million in 2018.
Overall, the Oscars was the most watched entertainment special since last year’s ceremony, topping the Grammy Awards and Golden Globes in total viewers. Other broadcast networks didn’t try to compete Sunday, with all airing repeats. (See the chart below with preliminary numbers.)
Here is a list of the Oscars ceremonies of the past two decades with viewership totals, Best Picture winner and host:
2020: 23.6 million, Parasite (No host)
2019: 29.6 million, Green Book (No host)
2018: 26.5 million, The Shape of Water (Jimmy Kimmel)
2017: 32.9 million, Moonlight (Jimmy Kimmel)
2016: 34.4 million, Spotlight (Chris Rock)
2015: 37.3 million, Birdman (Neil Patrick Harris)
2014: 43.7 million, 12 Years a Slave (Ellen DeGeneres)
2013: 40.3 million, Argo (Seth MacFarlane)
2012: 39.3 million, The Artist (Billy Crystal)
2011: 37.9 million, The King’s Speech (Anne Hathaway/James Franco)
2010: 41.3 million, The Hurt Locker (Steve Martin/Alec Baldwin)
2009: 36.3 million, Slumdog Millionaire (Hugh Jackman)
2008: 32.0 million, No Country For Old Men (Jon Stewart)
2007: 40. 2 million, The Departed (Ellen DeGeneres)
2006: 38.9 million, Crash (Jon Stewart)
2005 42.1 million, Million Dollar Baby (Chris Rock)
2004: 43.5 million, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King (Billy Crystal)
2003: 33.0 million, Chicago (Steve Martin)
2002: 41.8 million, A Beautiful Mind (Whoopi Goldberg)
2001: 42.9 million, Gladiator (Steve Martin)
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