Oscars Audience Collapses in Latest Setback for Awards Shows

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The TV audience for Sunday’s Oscars -- a pared-down show stripped of the usual music, dancing and comedy -- fell by more than half, the latest disappointing number for live television generally and awards shows in particular.

About 9.85 million U.S. viewers tuned in for the 93rd Academy Awards, Walt Disney Co.’s ABC said Monday. Last year, about 24 million watched, which was the lowest since Nielsen began providing audience totals in 1974. The peak of 55.2 million viewers occurred in 1998, when the blockbuster “Titanic” was the big winner.

The Oscars went to a diverse pool of talent -- the first woman of color to win best director, and acting awards for a Black man and an Asian woman. That’s six years after the #OscarsSoWhite movement used social media to cast a light on bias in Hollywood.

But the broadcast faced challenges in attracting viewers. The ceremony had to be retooled because of the coronavirus pandemic, which meant fewer than 200 people attended in person at Union Station in Los Angeles. It was also delayed by about two months, and there were no blockbusters among the films competing for the top prizes. The songs competing for music awards weren’t performed during the main telecast.

Oscars Audience Collapses in Latest Setback for Awards Shows

Director Steven Soderbergh, who helped produce the show, had said the ceremony would unfold in a cinematic fashion. Instead, the pacing seemed slow, with extended introductions of nominees and fewer film clips.

The regular order of awards -- with best picture last -- was altered and the program finished with the best-actor Oscar. Chadwick Boseman, who died last year at age 43, was widely expected to win for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” In the end, 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins, who wasn’t in attendance and didn’t have a speech, got the award for “The Father,” sparking an uproar on social media.

“It wasn’t a terribly compelling show,” said Robert Thompson, a professor who studies TV and popular culture at Syracuse University. “We were promised something like watching a movie. I don’t know what movie that was.”

“Nomadland,” a film about a grief-struck woman traveling through the American West, won the Academy Award for best picture, delivering a major victory for Walt Disney Co. and ending an almost 20-year drought for Hollywood’s biggest studio. The film’s star Frances McDormand took the lead acting award, and director Chloe Zhao was also a winner.

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