It may be the only thing anyone’s talking about today, having generated so many utterly bizarre moments that it all seems like a horrific fever dream (They pre-taped a bunch of categories solely so they could cut out the time it takes for the winner to walk to the stage! BTS showed up for five seconds! Flash entered the Speed Force!), and that’s without even counting literally every aspect of the Will Smith/Chris Rock storyline. Unfortunately for the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences, though, a completely unhinged show where you never know what’s going to happen or what’s happening currently right before your eyes doesn’t translate to good ratings.
Before we get too doom-and-gloom over this, let’s put a positive spin on it: The Oscar ratings are up from last year! The promise of the stupid fan-voted categories and CODA’s awards season run and the perverse curiosity we all shared over how the show would handle the non-televised categories actually translated to slightly more people watching than last year! Hooray! Go ahead and celebrate, Academy. You did it.
But now we must point out that last year’s Oscars was the lowest-rated ceremony ever, so it would’ve taken lightning hitting the Dolby Theater and cutting out the entire broadcast to do any worse than the 2021 show. That one got around 9.8 million viewers, waaay down from the 23.6 million people who tuned in to see 2020’s pre-COVID Oscars, and last night’s show got somewhere around 13.7 million viewers—making it the second-worst ever.
Hey, it could be worse! Literally one worse. And to put these numbers in context, Deadline explains that the Titanic Oscars in 1998—the one that got the highest ratings ever—was seen by 55.3 million people. The Deadline story also lists the last two decades of Oscars shows along with their ratings, and probably the most worrying aspect is that the 2018 Oscars, the one after they named the wrong Best Picture winner, had worse ratings than the year before.
That means even a huge watercooler event like that or Will Smith hitting Chris Rock doesn’t necessarily mean better ratings from people who want to see what happens the next year. Basically, the Oscars are going to have to keep trying to think of some way to boost the ratings, because the truly absurd number of things they tried this year didn’t do enough.
Update: While violence is never the answer, no matter how entertaining it may be to watch two millionaires slap each other, the Oscars benefited from the break from the social graces of polite society. Per Variety, in the 15 minutes following the slap, the Oscars ratings spiked by 500,000 viewers.
However, while everyone tuned into the Oscars for violence, the lack thereof bored the general public, who broke the cardinal rule of Larry Sanders and started flipping.
The night wasn’t over yet, though. When the Oscars awarded Smith the Academy Award for Best Actor, he caused another jump in ratings. More than 600,000 people checked out Smith’s bizarre, incoherent, tear-filled acceptance speech, hoping for yet another glimpse at the carnage bumbling beneath the market-tested persona of one Mr. Willennium C. Smith II.