After Oscars, ABC Will Remain Last in Viewers Among Big 4 – But Maybe Not in Key Demo

Battle for ratings bronze in 18-49 demographic is close this season

tony maglio ratings report banner

Hope your tux is pressed because the 92nd Academy Awards are this weekend. More than 3,000 people will watch the Oscars from inside L.A.’s Dolby Theater, tens of millions will from home.

But what should longtime host network ABC actually expect on Sunday, TV audience-wise?

As recently as 2014, the Oscars were drawing more than 40 million viewers. But that’s certainly not going to happen this time.

Over the past two years, the Academy Awards’ television audience has dipped below 30 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Don’t totally crucify 2019’s show, however, because it added almost 3 million viewers from the 2018 Oscars. That is a win, one that can be attributed to a better mix of nominees — mainly “Black Panther” and a few other big box office hits — and the initial intrigue of a hostless show.

But the crop of 2020 films that got nods were more modest in terms of ticket sales, and the buzz surrounding them is also way down. And while there’s again no host this year, the bloom is mostly off the rose with that plan. (Except the part where it keeps the long awards show moving. We all like that aspect.)

Of course we don’t know *exactly* how those factors will affect the viewership results for Sunday’s show — but we do know that right now ABC could sure use whatever eyeball boost it gets. Season-to-date, through 19 completed weeks, ABC is way behind the rest of its Big 4 broadcast competition in primetime’s average total viewers.

Here’s how they rank:

Fox: 8.0 million
CBS: 7.8 million
NBC: 7.3 million
ABC: 5.2 million

Not having NFL rights sucks, huh? This is why no one should be surprised if ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” finds itself (back) on ABC.

The Oscars will lift ABC’s viewer average by a few hundred thousand, but the Disney-owned (just like ESPN) broadcaster will remain in fourth. The chasm is just too vast.

However, there is momentum to be gained here.

ABC is also currently last in the key 18-49 demographic — if you go out to two decimal places, at least. Here are those current (unrounded) demo rankings:

Fox: 2.19
NBC: 1.58
CBS: 1.13
ABC: 1.06

With the gap so tight between CBS and ABC, a huge event like the Academy Awards can definitely shake up the standings. It is completely possible that ABC grows by one-tenth of a Nielsen point on Sunday night, which would allow the channel to leapfrog CBS. Or maybe it won’t — check back with TheWrap next week.

Before you set that smartphone reminder and go surf the web some more, find the past 20 years of Academy Awards viewers in our line graph below.

Readers can click to enlarge.

Bonus: Below are the Best Picture winners for the high and low marks of the millennia.
2000: “American Beauty” (High, 46.3 million total viewers)
2018: “The Shape of Water” (Low, 26.6 million)

The contenders this time around are “Ford v Ferrari,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker,” “Little Women,” “Marriage Story,” “1917,” “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” and “Parasite.” The viewers? We’ll find out on Monday.

The 92nd Academy Awards air live Sunday on ABC. They start at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.

Tony Maglio

Tony Maglio

TV Editor • • Twitter: @tonymaglio


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