Sunday's 88th Academy Awards drew 34.3 million viewers on ABC, down 8% from last year to its lowest turnout since 2008, when a record-low 32 million watched No Country for Old Men take home the best-picture trophy.
Preliminary ratings for the 3 1/2-hour-plus telecast (measured by Nielsen only until the last national commerical break) show a decline of 3 million viewers, half of last year's drop from 2014, and a much smaller drop among the young-adult audience. But the Oscars were up from last year among men of all ages, and especially younger viewers, perhaps a function of Rock's appeal. Final results are due Tuesday.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, among those leading calls for a viewer boycott to protest the Oscars' all-white field of acting nominees, seized on the ratings decline as proof of his campaign was successful in steering viewers away. In a statement, he called the decline "heartening," and said that while he wouldn't take "full credit," the results should "send a message to the Academy and to movie-studio heads."
But it's impossible to isolate the effect of that boycott, if there is one, from other factors at work.
- A recent trend that's seen the decline in ratings for awards shows, following a period of upticks credited to social media. CBS's Grammy Awards, which claimed 25 million viewers on Feb. 15, hit a seven-year low.
- A crop of best-picture nominees that modest performers at the box office. Winner Spotlight, with a $39 million total, had the lowest haul for a top award winner since The Hurt Locker, in 2009. In contrast, blockbuster Titanic set records for the 1998 Oscars, which nabbed more than 55 million viewers.
- The appeal of the host: Billy Crystal presided over several of the highest-rated Oscar telecasts in the last two decades, while Jon Stewart's 2008 stint marked the lowest, with 31.8 million.
On Twitter, the number of tweets rose from last year but the audience was about the same: Nielsen says 12.9 million users saw 7.2 million tweets, while in 2015, 13 million saw 5.9 million tweets.