Despite annual controversies, questionable jokes, and never-ending discussions about the decline of Hollywood’s cultural influence, the Academy Awards ceremony almost always ends up being one of the most-watched broadcasts of the year. Clearly, Hollywood movies still matter.
But for how much longer? The Oscars did make the list of top 10 single-event telecasts in 2020, but barely. Averaging 24.3 million viewers, it was No. 10 on Nielsen’s annual roundup, the lowest ranking in several years, despite having the advantage of airing in early February before COVID-19 disruptions upended live events.
For context, the Oscars was No. 5 last year, and in fact, it’s been in the top five for four of the last five years. Although it has ranked lower in the past—in 2012, it wasn’t in the top 10 at all, for example—its slippage this year is notable because the February telecast, which had no host, marked a record low in viewership.
It also comes at a time when the movie industry is facing the perfect storm of existential threats to its business model, from the accelerated adoption of streaming platforms to the shutdown of movie theaters due to the coronavirus pandemic. Studios are being forced to rethink decades-old ways of doing business. WarnerMedia recently announced it would release its 2021 blockbusters simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, and Disney last week all but declared itself a streaming-first company. What the Oscars will look like when the smoke clears from all this change is anyone’s guess, but it may not be the kind of ending Hollywood loves.
Oscars aside, Nielsen’s annual top 10 list was otherwise unremarkable. Sports programming dominated, as it usually does, with Super Bowl LIV taking the No. 1 spot. The February game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs averaged 102 million viewers. The only other nonsports programming on the list was The Masked Singer.
You can check out the full list here.