The audience for award ceremonies is declining sharply. This graph shows how far viewership has fallen

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The Academy Awards are Hollywood’s biggest night, but fewer and fewer people outside that circle are tuning in to the event.

Last Sunday, viewership for the annual broadcast of the Oscars dropped to a new low, with 10.4 million people watching which film took home the best picture award, according to Nielsen data. That’s a drop of nearly 56% from the 23.6 million viewers who turned on their TV for the program last year.

The Academy’s third hostless show in a row scored 2.12 among adults aged 18-49, a key target audience for advertisers, down 60% from 2020.

The drop in both stats isn’t entirely surprising, as awards shows have generally seen a decline in viewership in recent years. And few of the nominees were considered mainstream, as movie theaters were largely closed for a year due to the pandemic.

The Emmy Awards, which aired in September, had the lowest viewership of such a ceremony in Television Academy history. The show drew a total of just 5.1 million viewers, a 14% drop from last year’s event, Nielsen said.

The Grammys also saw a dizzying drop. This year’s awards ceremony attracted 9.23 million viewers, a decrease of 51% from the 18.69 million viewers in 2020.

Do people get bored at big awards shows or do they just look at it differently?

Some argue that the inundation of too many live award show ceremonies has saturated the market and made top-tier award shows like the Grammys, Emmys, and Oscars less exciting for viewers.

The Golden Globes, Video Music Awards (VMAs), Billboard Music Awards, Country Music Awards, BET Awards, People Choice Awards, Critics Choice awards and countless other ceremonies have all been televised in recent years. With so little curation, it wouldn’t be surprising if viewers started to tire.

Not to mention that younger viewers, many of whom have cut the cable, aren’t quite as willing to go through the traditional 16 to 20 minutes of commercials per hour that come with a live TV broadcast. A three-hour show like the Oscars can mean an hour of ads.

There are also those who particularly deplore Hollywood for using its awards ceremonies to make political and social statements. Regina King, who opened Sunday’s Oscars, used her time to allude to how Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of three charges in connection with the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, last year.

“Now I know a lot of you folks at home will reach for your remote if you feel like Hollywood is preaching to you, but as a mother of a black son I know the fear that so many live with and no amount of fame or fortune changes that,” she said.

Then there are the nominees themselves. Nielsen’s data shows that in the years when certain commercially popular films were nominated, more people tuned in. The 2019 ceremony, which hit 29.6 million viewers, featured nominees from popular films such as “Black Panther,” “Spider-Man: “Into the Spider-Verse,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star is Born.”

Likewise, even ten years ago, when “Avatar,” “Up,” “Inglorious Basterds,” “District 9,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “The Blind Side” were all nominated for Best Picture, ratings were 41, 6 million.

Of course, it is possible that people watch these awards ceremonies, but view the programs differently. The Nielsen data does not include numbers for viewers who chose to watch any of the major award shows on streaming platforms.

Dan Rayburn, a media and streaming analyst, said one barrier is that the streaming industry has yet to agree on a firm definition of what a viewer is. Each streaming service has a different way of reporting how many people have watched a particular movie, TV show, or live show. This can make comparisons between platforms and between those platforms and traditional cable providers difficult.

Oscars 2021 coverage from CNBC

Read more about this year’s Academy Awards:

  • ‘Nomadland’ Wins Best Picture at 93rd Academy Awards
  • The Oscars were a well-intentioned mess that flopped despite an elite producing team
  • Academy Awards ratings plummet to all-time lows as viewership dips below 10 million
  • Netflix wins 7 awards, almost doubling the number of Oscars of all time
  • Chloe Zhao Second Woman to Win Best Director at Academy Awards
  • As female directors enter the Oscar spotlight, here are 13 filmmakers to watch

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