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ABC’s Oscars telecast gets highest audience since 2020 with 18.7 million viewers

ABC’s telecast of the 95th Academy Awards on Sunday earned a post-slap boost in ratings, according to Nielsen data.

The ceremony from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood averaged 18.7 million viewers, 12% more than the previous year, when Will Smith’s onstage assault on host Chris Rock became world news.

It was the largest audience for an Oscar telecast since 2020, when the event drew 23.6 million viewers.

The scandal was expected to draw in viewers on Sunday, who were at least interested in hearing how this year’s host Jimmy Kimmel would handle it. The ABC late-night stalwart was the emcee of the ceremony for the third time.

Last year’s broadcast averaged 16.7 million viewers, 58% better than the all-time low of 10.5 million in 2021. The audience for the 2022 ceremony was buoyed when word of mouth from the slap of Smith probably led people to see the fallout, which included the star winning a leading actor trophy.

But viewership for Sunday’s broadcast remains well below the nearly 30 million viewers who watched it in 2019.

The Oscars faced stiff competition when the finale of HBO’s hit zombie drama “The Last of Us” ran squarely against the broadcast, a sign that the awards ceremony is no longer a fearsome event that can scare off counterprogramming efforts.

Proceedings felt more upbeat than in recent years as the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided and seven-time Oscar winner “Everything Everywhere All at Once” provided several feel-good stories.

The film’s star, Michelle Yeoh, became the first Asian woman to win a leading actress trophy. Like Yeoh, supporting performance winners Jamie Lee Curtis and Ke Huy Quan took home their first Oscars after decades of careers in the movie business.

The Oscars have been fighting against trends in the television industry that have lowered viewership levels for awards shows. Video streaming has diminished the traditional habit of watching television. Younger viewers are increasingly turning to social media and YouTube for clips of live events rather than sitting through a full three-hour-plus broadcast with commercials.

The Oscars also suffer from being the coda to a months-long movie awards season in which some of the same winners are seen giving speeches, likely adding to viewer fatigue and a lack of suspense.

While streaming isn’t as big as it used to be, it’s still a big draw for advertisers, with some 30-second spots selling for around $2 million. Only the NFL postseason contests and the Super Bowl attract higher prices.

The film academy promised to offer a faster broadcast than in the past while restoring the eight technical awards that were not delivered live during the 2022 broadcast.

Speeches by Oscar winners dealing with political and social justice issues were kept to a minimum, while the diversity of this year’s winners was celebrated. Along with the milestone set by Yeoh, costume designer Ruth E. Carter became the first black woman to win multiple Oscars.

This year’s broadcast also benefited from the nomination of several brand-name blockbusters, including “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.” “Everything Everywhere All at Once” currently has $73 million in domestic ticket sales, the highest for a best picture winner since “Green Book” in 2018.

A musical performance by Rihanna, whose Super Bowl LVII halftime ratings soared above those of the game, likely gave the Oscars telecast a boost as well.