Why the Oscars Audience Just Plummeted Almost 20 Percent (Analysis)

Jimmy Kimmel’s Academy Awards return sets new all-time low — and by a long shot

Jimmy Kimmel’s second turn hosting the Oscars lost nearly 20 percent of the overall audience that tuned in last year. With *just* 26.5 million total viewers, Sunday’s awards show on ABC not only set a new all-time low in viewership, it obliterated the old mark by 17 percent.

Yes, last night was a disaster for the Disney-owned broadcaster, show producers, and those who ponied up millions to buy ad time (we’re looking at you, super-weird Kinder Eggs candy) on the special — but what went wrong? Happy to tell you.

Blame-gamers (like us, we suppose) need to look no further than the very movies we were celebrating. This year, only two of the bloated nine Best Pictures options made more than $100 million at the box office. And only one of those, “Dunkirk,” came out over the summer, which is primetime as far as films are concerned. The other blockbuster (from a ticket sales and ROI standpoint, at least) was “Get Out,” which premiered more than a year ago.

Sometimes absence does not make the heart grow fonder.

It certainly didn’t help the 90th Academy Awards that live TV ratings have been steadily declining overall for years now. And in the current season — even counting one week’s worth of DVR viewing where available — ABC is down 11 percent in total viewers, compared to a net decline of about 5 percent for the Big 4 broadcast networks overall.

But those trends alone should only account for maybe a quarter of the overall loss. Last year’s 32.9 million viewers was down 4 percent from the prior one, for example, while 2016’s 34.3 million audience members dipped 6 percent from its own predecessor.

The 2018 Academy Awards also ran way too long. Since Nielsen ratings are the average of a show’s overall audience, a three-hour program running 3:50 (and nearing midnight on the east coast) only dilutes tune-in. The 2017 Oscars overrun was even longer, but its “La La Land”-“Moonlight” Best Picture fiasco made it worth the wait.

We’ve got work in the morning, guys.

Additionally, any strong political statement has the potential to alienate audiences. No, the Oscars weren’t advertised on political terms, but host Jimmy Kimmel has increasingly used his ABC talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live” as a political forum. At the same time, Hollywood at large is going through an extremely political period, as evidenced by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Audiences therefore had good reason to expect politically-charged content at the Oscars as well, and some of them — particularly Middle-America viewers who propel “Big Bang Theory” ratings or put Donald Trump into the White House — might have tuned out.

Other potential (minor) contributors to last night’s decline and record-low could be the predictability of the award winners. There really weren’t many surprises last night. To steal a term from college basketball’s upcoming March Madness, the results were all “chalk.”

A poorly received Kimmel cold open didn’t do his employer any favors either. His monologue was much better — should’ve just started there, Jim. Unfortunately, the recycled stars-meet-fans gag and other bits fell flatter throughout the night.

Finally, bad weather back in New York and Boston may not have helped things, especially if the local power didn’t cooperate. At this point though, we’re admittedly just grasping at straws.

So if we’re being honest: It’s all your fault, Guillermo del Toro.