If you’re searching for a reason behind the movie academy’s head-scratching decision to add a popular category to the competition, look no further than this year’s Oscars telecast: It was the least-viewed telecast in the show’s history.
The Academy Awards on ABC in March averaged 26.5 million viewers, down from last year’s 32 million. Though it still remained the most-watched award show on TV — the Grammys, in comparison, only averaged 19.8 million on Jan. 28, while the 2017 Emmy telecast matched its 2016 season low of 11.38 million — Oscar viewership is nothing like the days when it pulled in more than 40 million viewers.
People just don’t watch the Oscars much these days, a phenomenon that has as much to do with how unfamiliar folks are with many of the winners (this year’s Best Picture victor, The Shape of Water, only earned $57 million at the box office by the time of the show) as it does the myriad of choices on the small screen. Why wait to see if a Frances McDormand movie will win the golden statue when there’s the opportunity to binge Killing Eve, instead?
That’s obviously why the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences today said it is creating a new category to honor “achievement in popular film.” It also wants to air a “more globally accessible three-hour telecast” on Feb. 9, 2019 — almost a month earlier than its usual slot at the end of February.
Just how bad is the drop in Oscar viewership over the years? Check out the levels over the last 20 years.
2018: 26.5 million (Best picture winner: The Shape of Water)
2017: 32.9 million (Moonlight)
2016: 34.4 million (Spotlight)
2015: 37.2 million (Birdman)
2014: 43.7 million (12 Years a Slave)
2013: 40.3 million (Argo)
2012: 39.3 million (The Artist)
2011: 37.9 million (The King’s Speech)
2010: 41.7 million (The Hurt Locker)
2009: 36.3 million (Slumdog Millionaire)
2008: 32.0 million (No Country for Old Men)
2007: 40.1 million (The Departed)
2006: 38.9 million (Crash)
2005: 42.1 million (Million Dollar Baby)
2004: 43.5 million (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King)
2003: 33.0 million (Chicago)
2002: 41.7 million (A Beautiful Mind)
2001: 42.9 million (Gladiator)
2000: 46.3 million (American Beauty)
1999: 45.6 million (Shakespeare in Love)
1998: 55.2 million (Titanic)