Oscars Producers Get Candid About Ratings in a Post-Slap World

The 94th Academy Awards rebounded from a record low partly due to the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock

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Last year’s Oscars received an unexpected boost.

Rebounding from a ratings low, the 94th Academy Awards averaged 16.6 million total viewers and a 3.8 rating in the key adults 18-49 demo. Part of that audience can be attributed to Will Smith’s shocking slap of Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

The incident led to a surge of about 555,000 viewers, with nearly 17.4 million tuning in during the minutes after the slap, according to Nielsen data released from ABC.

It wasn’t the largest audience of the night, with 17.7 million watching Troy Kotsur, the first deaf man to win an acting Oscar, accept the award for his supporting role in CODA. But the incident had a significant impact on the night’s overall numbers, as 17.4 million were again watching to see whether Smith would explain what happened during his Best Actor acceptance speech for King Richard.

During an Oscars Creative Team press conference on Wednesday, Adweek asked producers about living up to last year’s ratings for the upcoming March 12 show—considering they received a boost from the slap incident in 2022—and their strategy for the night.

“There’s always concerns, but at the end of the day, what we have to do is keep going forward and make this as great and entertaining and respectful and reverent show as we possibly can,” said Glenn Weiss, executive producer and showrunner for the Oscars. “This entire business is going through a little bit of a transition. That said, our objective is to do our jobs well and to give you a really great show to watch. We can only hope the ratings go in the direction that we want them to, but we’re committed to making this something that will be appreciated by everybody viewing it.”

Earlier in the conference call, Ricky Kirshner, also executive producer and showrunner, noted that ratings aren’t the only way to measure the show’s success.

“As things evolve, ratings sometimes aren’t as important because people want to know how many tweets were out there on social media, etc. And we’ve always thought what measures success is whether we feel we’ve done our best job and put on a great show,” Kirshner said, later adding, “Our measure of success is whether we feel we’ve done the show we wanted to do, and with the team we have behind us, I feel like we can’t miss.”

Perhaps the production team shouldn’t be that concerned about the slap incident anyway. After all, Rita Ferro, Disney’s ad sales president, previously told Adweek the show’s ratings were going up before the incident.

“The great thing about the Oscars is it was definitely one of the awards shows that was up this year [in the ratings]. It wasn’t up because of what happened on the show [with Will Smith],” Ferro said. “If you look at the minute-by-minute ratings, it was already trending up before that happened.”

Still, the show will address the incident and then move on, according to executive producer Molly McNearney.

“That’s probably what everyone wants, especially in that room. We don’t want to make this year about last year,” McNearney said on the conference call. “But yeah, it’s certainly something that we can and will address in a comedic fashion.”

Bringing the magic of the movies to mobile

In truth, the production team likely has more important things to worry about, including bringing the show to more multiscreen viewing experiences. During the call, producers revealed the show would include QR codes to help introduce and humanize the nominees through video packages at the end of most acts, according to Kirshner.

“You’ll meet all the nominees in that category, and give yourself a huge rooting interest for not only the film you might like but the people you might like,” Kirshner said. “And learn a little bit more about what they do and who they are.”

Weiss also noted that the show is looking to be more “immersive” than ever.

“You’re gonna find an experience that is going to be adaptable, immersive and taking on the flavor of the winners and the movies that they’re doing,” Weiss said. “It’s going to be a visually stunning experience.”

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