Was President Trump right that 2018 marked a low point for the Oscars? Since the beginning of Nielsen TV audience ratings in 1974, yes.
The 2018 show attracted 26.5 million viewers, down almost 20 percent from the 2017 show. (Both were hosted by ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.)
Adweek noted that the 2018 Oscars “won’t end up as the year’s highest-rated entertainment telecast,” since it has already been beaten out by the post-Super Bowl episode of the prime-time drama This Is Us.
This is not a one-year downward blip, either. Oscars viewership in 2018 fell by 39 percent from its level just four years earlier.
The previous low of 31.8 million viewers came in 2008, when Jon Stewart hosted not long after a lengthy writers’ strike ended.
The all-time high for viewership came in 1998, when Billy Crystal hosted the ceremony and 55 million viewers watched. In 1998, the blockbuster “Titanic” won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture.
Experts say the connection between high box office grosses and high viewership is more than coincidence.
This year’s nominated films earned far less than” Titanic,” which had grossed north of $300 million by the time of the 1998 awards ceremony. The top earner among 2018’s Best Picture nominees was “Dunkirk” with $188 million, and only two other nominees this year, “Get Out” and “The Post” made over $60 million domestically. (All made additional money overseas.)
“Most of the movies up for Oscars in multiple categories are films that average moviegoers have not seen,” said Eric Deggans, NPR’s television critic. “That’s a function of our fragmented media landscape.”
Among the widely seen films that were shut out of high-profile Oscars nominations were “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Wonder Woman,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Fate of the Furious.”
Deggans added that movie grosses aren’t the only factor to blame for low viewership. In fact, “The Shape of Water,” this year’s Best Picture, was the highest-grossing film to win Best Picture since 2013, when “Argo” won.
Rather, the longer-term — and more intractable — problem for the Oscars is the fragmentation of the television audience. And this goes beyond the impact of digital streaming, which isn’t tabulated in the Nielsen ratings.
“Every awards show on television has seen erosion, and many are notching record lows in viewership,” Deggans said. “There are more things than ever competing for an audience’s attention, and more alternatives for people who might not want to sit through something as conventional as an awards ceremony.”
Ratings for the most recent Grammys fell by almost one-quarter in just one year, while the Screen Actors Guild Awards fell by 30 percent and the Golden Globes fell by 5 percent. This year’s Super Bowl had the lowest audience since 2009.
Trump said the 2018 Academy Awards show was the “lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY.” He’s right, at least going back to 1974, when Nielsen started reporting ratings. We rate Trump’s statement True.