Some 18.7 million viewers tuned in Sunday to watch the Academy Awards. While that was more than last year’s viewership of 15 million, it was still far short of the number of viewers the show attracted in previous years.
From 2010 to 2021, viewership of the Oscars has seen a precipitous decline, from 41.7 million to a low of 10.4 million — a roughly 75% drop.
It is not just the Oscars that are losing viewership. This year, the Grammys had the third-worst viewership in its history, with 12.4 million watchers.
What factors account for waning interest in the Oscars and in award shows in general?
One claim is that the Academy Awards have lost cultural relevance, as recently argued in MovieWeb. The outlet noted that the types of movies being nominated have changed in recent years.
Historically, big blockbuster films like The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars, and E.T. received nominations for Best Picture. In the 2000s, many of the films nominated for Best Picture were lower-budgeted, more niche movies from smaller studios.
People are less likely to watch an awards show if they are not familiar with the movies that have been nominated, the outlet suggested. When popular movies are nominated, Academy Awards viewership tends to increase.
In addition, the decadence of Hollywood’s biggest night, where nominees receive $100,000 gift bags and wear million-dollar haute couture, may not sit well with Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, as Deseret News pointed out. This can make Hollywood seem out of touch with mainstream America.
Some celebrities have also used the awards shows as platforms to promote their political or social agenda, which has alienated some viewers, according to CNBC.
In a December 2020 podcast, actors Russell Brand and Texas’ own Matthew McConaughey discussed the “condemnation and criticism of ordinary working people” by Hollywood, as reported by Deadline.
“There are a lot [of people] on that illiberal left that absolutely condescend, patronize, and are arrogant towards the other 50 percent,” McConaughey argued.
However, the declining award show viewership is also connected to a broader change in the way people access their entertainment.
Live broadcasts, in general, are seeing declines as cable continues to drop off, and the fragmented nature of streaming makes live broadcasts less widely available.
In 2022, more viewers used streaming services than used cable for the first time ever, according to Nielsen.
Now that more people can quickly find out the winners and watch highlights on social media, they have even less incentive to tune in to an hours-long live broadcast award show, according to Axios.
“We may be in a new world where 18 million is a really good number in the modern social media era for the Oscars,” Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore, told The Dallas Express.
“I don’t disagree with people who say it’s lost its way or lost its cache over the years but there is an attempt to get it back. Will it ever get back? If you look at television ratings on any level[, t]he audiences are so fragmented now with so many ways to get their entertainment news that I don’t know if you get back to the same ratings numbers that you had in an era where social media or various streaming platforms weren’t even a factor in terms of competition,” added Dergarabedian, who has been covering box office numbers for over 30 years.