Seamless Ratings for Hostless Oscars


Who needs a host?

For the first time in five years, the Oscars broadcast had growth in viewership.

Now for the not-so-great news: While the Academy Awards show on Sunday, which honored “Green Book” for best picture, had 29.6 million viewers, a 12 percent increase from last year, it still attracted the second-lowest viewership since Nielsen started keeping track of the ratings in 1974.

At least for now, the Oscars has managed to snap its losing streak.

Before the broadcast, there was plenty of concern within ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that the Oscars had not yet hit rock bottom. Last year’s ceremony, hosted by ABC’s own Jimmy Kimmel, had 26.5 million viewers, a 19 percent drop from 2017 and well below the 43.7 million viewers who had tuned in as recently as 2014.

The 2018 number was a record low, beating out the previous least-watched Oscars, the 2008 broadcast. A total of 32 million watched that hastily organized ceremony, which came together days after the conclusion of the Writers Guild of America’s strike.

The ceremony on Sunday, which went without a host for the first time in 30 years, was warmly received by critics. ABC had promised a brisk ceremony, and for the most part, that’s what it delivered.

A brief, energetic performance by the surviving members of Queen, with Adam Lambert fronting the band, took the place of the usual lengthy monologue. Awards were handed out at a quick pace, with the best supporting actress winner, Regina King, offering her thanks in the opening minutes.

As they presented that award, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler delivered a quick satire of the usual opening remarks. Other entertainers, from Keegan-Michael Key floating down from the rafters with an umbrella, à la Mary Poppins, to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sitting side by side on a piano bench for “Shallow,” kept things moving. Several high-grossing movies — “Black Panther,” “A Star Is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” — remained in contention for major awards to the end, which also may have helped maintain viewer interest.

The broadcast was considerably shorter than recent ceremonies and the second straight to begin at 8 p.m. Eastern time, rather than the old start time of 8:30. That meant that the final presenter, Julia Roberts, was able to say good night at 11:17. Several recent ceremonies had dragged on past midnight.

ABC and the academy had been dedicated to finding ways to make the Oscars more ratings-friendly. Last year, network executives encouraged winners to keep speeches fun and frothy and to avoid third-rail material, like invoking President Trump.

Before this year’s ceremony, the academy announced it would move four categories off the live telecast altogether and introduce a new best popular movie Oscar. A Hollywood backlash forced the academy to walk back both decisions.

In December, the comedian Kevin Hart was set to host the 91st Oscars, only to bow out days later, after several of his old tweets and comments were deemed homophobic. ABC had hoped the drama surrounding the host issue would lift the viewership.

“Ironically, I have found that the lack of clarity around the Oscars has kept the Oscars really in the conversation, and that the mystery has been really compelling,” Karey Burke, ABC’s president for entertainment, said this month. “People really care.”

The viewership boost kept the Oscars as the dominant awards show program. In recent years, the Grammys and Golden Globes were becoming a threat, but that has abated. This year’s Grammys had 19.9 million viewers, a slight uptick over last year, and the Globes drew 18.6 million.

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