Barbenheimer Phenomenon and Early Premiere Propel Oscar Ratings to Best in Four Years

The resurgence of live television events is unmistakably on the rise. The 96th Academy Awards, broadcasted by ABC on a Sunday, captivated an impressive 19.5 million viewers, marking the highest viewership in four years, as reported by Nielsen. This year’s audience numbers saw an increase from the previous year’s 18.8 million, continuing a three-year trend of growing Oscar viewership.

ABC and the Academy have ample reasons to celebrate, especially after deciding to commence the prestigious awards ceremony at 7 p.m. Eastern, a full hour earlier than in previous years. This strategic move aimed at retaining viewers right through to the end of the event certainly seems to have paid off. Additionally, the ceremony’s spotlight on major box office successes such as “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” a departure from the norm of celebrating lesser-known films, along with Jimmy Kimmel’s well-received fourth stint as host, contributed significantly to the night’s success. Kimmel is now just one hosting gig away from tying with Johnny Carson, another late-night luminary who also graced the Oscars’ stage.

According to Nielsen, this year’s Oscars emerged as the most-watched network awards show since February 2020, underscoring a growing trend of increased viewer interest in mass cultural events, a notable shift from the viewership declines experienced during the pandemic.

This revival in live event TV viewership isn’t limited to the Oscars. The Grammy Awards in February enjoyed a viewership of 16.9 million, a 34 percent increase from the previous year. The Golden Globes and the Super Bowl also saw significant viewership spikes, with the latter setting a new record with an audience of 123.7 million. Even the Tony Awards, typically the least viewed among the prestigious “EGOT” events, experienced a modest increase in viewership.

The Oscars also featured memorable performances, including Billie Eilish’s rendition of her pop ballad “What Am I Made For?” and Ryan Gosling’s engaging performance of “I’m Just Ken,” which drew inspiration from classic Hollywood musicals and included a surprise appearance by guitarist Slash. The event showcased a strong lineup of performances and appearances that undoubtedly contributed to its viewership success.

ABC, holding the broadcast rights to the Oscars through 2028, announced a complete sell-out of its advertising slots for the event. While the network remained discreet about the exact figures, industry insiders revealed that the cost for a 30-second advertisement ranged between $1.7 million and $2.2 million, marking a slight increase from the previous year. Among the advertisements was a notable spot for Don Julio tequila, featuring Guillermo Rodriguez, a sidekick of Jimmy Kimmel, engaging with celebrities in the audience.

The Oscars have experienced a fluctuating viewership in recent years, with the 2021 pandemic-affected ceremony, held at a Los Angeles train station, attracting only 10.4 million viewers. However, viewership rebounded in 2022 to 16.6 million, partly fueled by the unexpected incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock. Despite these ups and downs, the changing landscape of TV viewing habits is evident, with the Oscars telecast viewership never falling below 32 million viewers before 2018. This year’s ratings resurgence underscores a renewed interest in live television events, signaling a promising trend for the industry.