No Host, No Problem: Oscars Ratings Rise Year Over Year for the First Time Since 2014

29.6 million watched ABC’s telecast, which saw double-digit increases

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's electric performance of 'Shallow' had been a big part of ABC's marketing campaign. Ed Herrera/ABC
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The first host-less Academy Awards since 1989—which ABC had initially worried would cause Oscars ratings to plummet even further—instead resulted in a year over year ratings jump for the telecast, its first audience increase in five years.

A total of 29.6 million people watched Sunday’s Academy Awards, a 12 percent increase from last year’s record-low audience of 26.5 million. The telecast had a 7.7 rating among adults 18-49, a 13 percent jump from last year’s 6.8, which was also a record low.

While ABC successfully halted the freefalling Academy Awards ratings, the total audience and demo ratings are still the second-lowest on record. That said, this is the first Oscars telecast since 2014 to build on the ratings of the year before it.

The network noted that Sunday’s Oscars were TV’s most-watched entertainment telecast in two years.

The ratings bounceback came as ratings for the other major awards continued to fall during the past year, in either total viewers, the 18-49 demo or both.

Earlier this month, The Grammys plummeted to a record-low demo rating (5.6) on CBS, though the total viewers did increase slightly, from 19.8 million in 2018 to 19.9 million. Last month’s Golden Globes lost total viewers (down from 19 million in 2018 to 18.6 million), but the demo ratings jumped 4 percent to a 5.2.

And last fall’s Emmys on NBC fell to all-time lows in both total viewers (10.2 million) and the demo (2.4 rating).

The Oscars did not have a host this year for the first time since 1989. After a growing controversy over old homophobic tweets that resurfaced, Kevin Hart stepped down as Oscars host in December, just two days after he got the job. ABC and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences decided not to hire a replacement.

ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke told Adweek before the ceremony that she was initially “nervous” that the lack of a host could dent the audience for the telecast. “And so far, I’ve been gratified that our research is showing all the awareness and intent to view is just as high as if we’d had a host. So that has given me a big sigh of relief,” she said. “I think ironically the fact that there has been mystery around it has helped the Oscars stay part of the conversation.”

Without a host to build a marketing campaign around, ABC instead focused on other ways to woo viewers, including trying to capitalize on the large box office grosses of several Best Picture nominees.

“The big attraction at the Oscars this year is that we have three movies that are nominated for Best Picture that grossed over $200 million,” Burke said, referring to Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born.

ABC’s promos played up performances from Queen and Adam Lambert, which opened the telecast, and Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, who sang A Star is Born’s “Shallow,” which ended up winning Best Song.

It was a lucrative night for ABC, as Oscar Sunday generates more ad revenue for the network than any other day of the year, according to Kantar Media. Kantar Media estimated that the average cost for a 30-second Oscars spot this year was above $2 million, although the network sold some 30-second ads for as much as $2.6 million.

ABC’s Oscars ad revenue last year totaled $149 million, according to Kantar Media, with $133 million coming from the ceremony and $17 million from the red carpet show. That’s a 17 percent increase from 2017, when the network brought in $128 million.

This year’s Academy Awards advertisers included Nike, whose “Dream Crazier” ad starred Serena Williams and was its follow-up to last year’s Colin Kaepernick spot. Budweiser ran a 60-second spot starring Charlize Theron that it had originally earmarked for the Super Bowl. The telecast also included a 90-second ad pod exclusively devoted to Marriott Bonvoy, marking the first time an Oscar sponsor had secured a dedicated ad pod.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.