The Oscars Draws Its Smallest 18- to 49-Year-Old Audience in at Least 20 Years

And just 34.4 million total viewers tuned in

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Finding out how Oscars host Chris Rock would address the #OscarsSoWhite controversy didn't prove to be enough of a draw for audiences Sunday night. Just 34.4 million total viewers tuned into the 88th Academy Awards on ABC, according to Nielsen's final ratings for Sunday night.

The telecast pulled a 10.5 rating among adults ages 18 to 49, which translates to around 13.3 million viewers in the demo. That is the smallest 18-49 Oscars audience in at least two decades. The previous low came last year, when just under 14 million tuned in.

In total viewers, the ceremony is the third lowest rated Academy Awards telecast since 1974, which is as far back as Nielsen has telecast data for. Only the 2003 ceremony (33 million) and 2008 (32 million) had lower ratings. In 2005, when Rock last hosted, 42.1 million people tuned in. Last year, 37.3 million watched Birdman win best picture.

Still, even with the 8 percent drop in total viewers from last year's Academy Awards and 6 percent drop in the critical demo, the Oscars is likely to end up as the year's most-watched entertainment program.

ABC noted that the 88th Academy Awards was the biggest entertainment telecast since last year's Oscars. The network also pointed to increases in adults ages 18 to 34 (from a 9.3 rating last year to a 9.4), men ages 18 to 34 (up 20 percent from last year) and men ages 18 to 49 (up 6 percent). But the additional male viewers weren't enough to offset the other demos that tuned out this year.

While the #OscarsSoWhite controversy might have kept some viewers away, the movies in contention often affect the ratings, as Adweek previously noted. Best picture winner Spotlight has grossed just $39.1 million at the box office. While fellow nominees The Revenant, The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road were theatrical hits, the best picture category was devoid of the year's highest grossing films—Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World—which, when they're nominated, tend to draw bigger audiences for the awards show. 

See the relationship between Oscar viewership and the films that won best picture over the last 20 years:

Graph: Dianna McDougall; Source: Nielsen


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