TV Ratings: Oscars Drop to 32.9M Viewers, Telecast Takes a Bigger Hit With Younger Set

A long and eventful 89th Academy Awards continued the ABC telecast's recent downward ratings trend.

After initial indicators had Sunday's lengthy show off from 2016, time-zone adjusted tallies give this year's Oscars an average 32.9 million viewers. That marks a 4 percent drop in viewership from the prior. Early stats had the show averaging an overnight 22.4 rating among metered market households. (Last year's outing saw its overnight score, a 23.4 rating, ultimately translate to 34.4 million viewers.) In the key demo of adults 18-49, this year's show averaged a 9.1 rating — off a more dramatic 14 percent from the 2016 telecast, which averaged a 10.5 rating among the advertiser-favored viewers.
Sunday's Oscar telecast came in at a bloated three hours and 49 minutes, ranking as the longest in 10 years, but only those who stayed up past midnight for the announcement (and re-announcement) of this year's best picture caught the night's most memorable moment. The producers of La La Land were interrupted, mid-acceptance, when it was revealed that Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty had named the wrong winner and that Moonlight had actually taken the night's top honor. No matter how many people watched the show, that will surely linger as the defining point of the 2017 Oscars.

Despite the long running time, there also wasn't any big dip towards the end. The telecast was relatively steady throughout, pulling the biggest showing during the 9 o'clock ET hour. And, while an audience boost would have really helped the narrative, it is a minor loss. The drop in the demo stings a bit more, as the value of younger viewers (particularly during live, commercial-filled television) remains high. 

Leading into the big night, ABC's Oscars had suffered two consecutive years of dramatic dips — losing almost 10 million viewers between 2014 and 2016. But the show remains a lucrative flagship for ABC, which again reaped north of a reported $115 million in ad revenue from this year's show. The network and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences got a jump-start on broadcast rights in August, extending the current contract through 2028. And, for their part, ABC and corporate Parent The Walt Disney Co. made their involvement a bit more known this year — naming their own Jimmy Kimmel as host for the first time.

Blame will likely be thrown at a variety of factors — including running time, the box-office pull of this year's nominees and, for some, the expected political humor and messaging. But to rank as the least-watched Oscars on record, the ceremony would have had to fall below the 2008 ceremony, hosted by Jon Stewart. That show came in just shy of 32 million viewers after a 20.8 overnight rating.

A great deal of Oscar attention this year focused on how the telecast would handle the current political climate. The Golden Globes, after all, culminated in a rousing speech against President (and Apprentice executive producer) Donald Trump by lifetime achievement award winner Meryl Streep. And the SAG Awards, albeit a much smaller TV platform, were dominated by winners speaking out against the Trump administration's travel ban targeting Muslims. Kimmel got in the obligatory jabs at Trump, but they weren't as central to the tone of the telecast as many might have thought.

One thing the Oscars had going for them this year was the somewhat surprising uptick in awards show ratings. After 2015 and 2016 brought fatigue almost across the board, 2017 started off on an optimistic note with more viewers, year over year, tuning into the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards and the Grammys.

Oscar Audiences Since 2000

2017 — 32.9 million viewers
2016 — 34.4 million viewers
2015 — 37.3 million viewers
2014 — 43.7 million viewers
2013 — 40.4 million viewers
2012 — 39.5 million viewers
2011 — 37.9 million viewers
2010 — 41.6 million viewers
?2009 — 36.9 million viewers
2008 — 31.8 million viewers (low)
?2007 — 39.9 million viewers
2006 — 38.6 million viewers
2005 — 42.2 million viewers
2004 — 43.6 million viewers?
2003 — 33.0 million viewers
2002 — 40.5 million viewers
2001 — 42.9 million viewers
2000 — 46.5 million viewers (high)