'Barbenheimer' and early start send Oscar ratings to 4-year high

The return of live event television continues.

ABC's broadcast of the 96th Academy Awards on Sunday attracted 19.5 million viewers, a four-year audience record, according to Nielsen. The live television audience increased from last year's 18.8 million, marking the third consecutive year of Oscar viewership growth.

The audience report will draw applause from ABC and the academy, which moved the start of the venerable awards ceremony to 7 p.m. Eastern time, an hour earlier than usual. usual, in the hope that more viewers would remain in the final categories.

That approach seemed to pay off, as did the numerous nominations for big box office hits “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” — a change from recent years when more obscure films dominated the ceremony. Jimmy Kimmel also received warm reviews in his fourth outing as host, leaving him one point away from matching another late-night star who moonlighted at the Oscars, Johnny Carson.

Nielsen said Sunday's Oscars were the most-watched network awards show since February 2020, continuing a recent trend in which viewer interest has increased in the type of mass cultural events that have experienced difficulties during the pandemic.

In February, 16.9 million people watched the Grammy Awards, a 34% increase from last year. Viewership for the Golden Globes in January was up 50% from last year. The Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers broke audience records with an audience of 123.7 million people. Even the audiences for the 2023 Tony Awards, traditionally the least seen of the “EGOT” quartet, pink modestly.

At Sunday's Oscars, Billie Eilish sang her pop ballad “What Am I Made For?” and Ryan Gosling delivered a cheeky yet dedicated performance of “I’m Just Ken.” The choreography, which was inspired by Busby Berkeley films and the Marilyn Monroe musical “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” was complemented by an appearance by thrash-rock guitarist Slash and a host of Kens from “Barbie” , including Simu Liu.

ABC, which holds broadcast rights to the Oscars through 2028, said it had exhausted its advertising inventory for Sunday's event. The network did not release pricing, but advertising executives said ABC charged between $1.7 million and $2.2 million for a 30-second spot, up slightly from last year. Some commercials appeared on the show itself, such as a commercial for Don Julio tequila, in which Kimmel acolyte Guillermo Rodriguez offered the drink to celebrities in the audience.

In 2021, for a pandemic-lite Oscars ceremony held at a train station in Los Angeles, only 10.4 million people watched. Viewership grew in 2022 to 16.6 million people, partly due to the bizarre spectacle of Will Smith slaps Chris Rock.

There is no doubt, however, that television viewing habits have changed. Before 2018, the Oscars broadcast had never fallen below 32 million viewers.

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