In 1998, the year Titanic won best picture, the Oscars had more than 57 million viewers. Ratings have been sinking ever since and they hit a new bottom Sunday, with fewer than 10 million viewers, the New York Times reports. Nielsen says just 9.85 million people tuned in, down 58% from the 2020 ceremony, which set the previous record ratings low. There was an even bigger dip of 64.2 in the 18-49 age group advertisers are keen to reach, reports Variety. The ratings plunge comes despite organizers' efforts to hold an in-person event, unlike other awards shows including the Golden Globes, which also saw a major drop in ratings.
This year's Oscars found it especially hard to attract viewers because the pandemic caused studios to delay major releases, meaning most of the nominations involved movies few Americans had seen. It's hard to tell what extent the ratings drop "was beyond the producers' control, as opposed to being at least partly due to a telecast that too often felt like a public television pledge drive," says CNN media critic Brian Lowry. The Times notes that awards shows are increasingly focusing on progressive politics, "which inevitably annoys half the audience." (Read more Oscars stories.)