February 27, 2012

The Sked: SUNDAY OSCAR Ratings (Almost Official)

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>The ratings are almost official for the 84th Academy Awards.  The initial fast nationals have been correctly adjusted for each time zone’s live feed pattern, and now there is just one more processing step at Nielsen to make the rating official.  (The final step usually changes the rating at most one tenth of a rating point.)  The Academy Awards is now looking like an 11.7 rating Adult 18-49, about the same as last year and comfortably ahead of the record low in 2008.  The Grammys (14.1) will stand as the top-rated entertainment special with young adults this year.

In terms of all viewers (ages 2+), the Oscar telecast averaged 39.3 million viewers, almost 5% ahead of last year.  Thanks to population growth and an aging Oscar audience, there are now four Oscar ceremonies with lower 2+ audiences (2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011). 


           ACADEMY AWARDS Telecast Viewership
               Adult   Viewers
               18-49     2+     
               Rating  millions  BEST PICTURE
   2012 Feb 26  11.7    39.3     The Artist   ALMOST OFFICIAL
                10.4*   32.9*    The Artist*  SHOWBUZZ FORECAST
   2011 Feb 27  11.8    37.6     The King’s Speech
   2010 Mar  7  13.3    41.6     The Hurt Locker
   2009 Feb 22  12.1    36.9     Slumdog Millionaire
   2008 Feb 24  10.7    31.8     No Country for Old Men
   2007 Feb 25  14.1    39.9     The Departed
   2006 Mar  5  13.9    38.6     Crash
   2005 Feb 27  15.1    42.2     Million Dollar Baby
   2004 Feb 29  15.3    43.6     Lord of the Rings:
                                   Return of the King

So the 2012 ratings were not nearly as low as we forecast.  They are not disastrous — better described as in line with soft numbers of recent years.  After all, in today’s environment an 11.7 rating with young adults and 39+ million viewers is nothing to sneeze at.  But the Grammy Awards and the NFL show that live, relevant content can do the seeming impossible: increase TV audiences amid wrenching technological change.  Losing Eddie Murphy as host (and even scarier, Brett Ratner as the show’s producer) turned out to be a great thing.  Billy Crystal’s return (in all his love-it-or-hate-it Borscht Belt glory) was perfect for the older audience.  

Looking forward though, can the Academy and ABC recruit enough younger viewers to move the rating back toward a 13 or even higher?  As with box office performance, the answer lies in the movies themselves.  Instead of several well-crafted $50 million (or even less) grossing films, a couple of excellently-made $150+ million box office films in the running for major awards would generate the kind of interest and suspense that could push the rating as high as a 14 or 15.  Even it today’s fragmented media marketplace, it would be possible.  It’s the difference between an effete contest featuring films that most people maybe have heard of and a grudge-match starring movies that a broad cross-section of the TV audience has actually seen.  In contrast, no amount of tinkering to the broadcast itself (more downloaded apps, a “hip” young host, more/fewer clips, more/less dancing) is going to draw a larger young audience.  If anything, deviating too much from the formula will only alienate the older base, on which the franchise is built.  At its heart, the Oscars is the Super Bowl for women and movie fans.  Invite broadly appealing, well-matched films and stars to the arena, and viewers of all ages will show up.          


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."