Oscars 2016: Why were ratings down again?

Ratings for the 2016 Oscars ceremony were the lowest in total viewers in eight years, though the numbers were up for young viewers as well as male TV watchers. What accounts for these numbers?

Mike Blake/Reuters
Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Mark Rylance (l.), Best Actress Oscar winner Brie Larson (second from l.), Best Actor winner Oscar Leonardo DiCaprio (second from r.), and Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (r.) appear at the ceremony.

Ratings continue to fall for the annual Oscars broadcast, which experienced the lowest ratings for the Academy Awards in eight years. 

The ceremony, which was hosted by Chris Rock and followed the Academy nominating only white actors for the second year in a row, was held on Feb. 28 and reportedly drew more than 34 million viewers.

That audience was the lowest since 2008, when the Coen brothers movie “No Country for Old Men” won Best Picture and Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” hosted. 

Of course, low ratings for the Oscars would be great ratings for almost anything else, especially in the current broadcast TV world. In addition, the show apparently drew more young people this year, with ratings having increased since last year for adults age 18 to 34 years old. More male viewers were drawn as well, with ratings for male viewers age 18 to 49 years old having increased also. 

The Oscars continue to draw more viewers than any other awards show, such as the Grammys or the Emmys. 

Critics for the most part considered Rock’s hosting a success and Leonardo DiCaprio winning the Best Actor Oscar after being nominated several times for various prizes was considered a big moment of the night. It became the moment at an Academy Awards ceremony that had inspired the most tweets, topping former host Ellen DeGeneres’ celebrity-filled selfie in 2014. 

So why were ratings down? 

Some industry watchers believed before the ceremony that the lack of nominees of color and what Rock would say about this could draw viewers, but that was obviously not the case.

“The lower figures could reflect civil rights leader Al Sharpton's call for a ‘tune out’ to protest the absence of people of color among the nominees,” BBC staff suggested. 

USA Today writer Gary Levin also believed that viewers may be tired of these ceremonies in general. “[There’s been] a recent trend that's seen the decline in ratings for awards shows, following a period of upticks credited to social media,” Levin wrote. “CBS's Grammy Awards, which claimed 25 million viewers on Feb. 15, hit a seven-year low.”

Stephen Battaglio of the Los Angeles Times also wrote that, once again, the fact that box office hits did not dominate the Best Picture nominees may have contributed as well. (The Oscars ceremony in which box office smash “Titanic” won Best Picture is still the highest-rated of all time.)

“While ‘The Revenant,’ ‘The Martian’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ were popular with moviegoers, other nominees, including [Best Picture winner] ‘Spotlight’ and ‘Room,’ weren't widely seen by American audiences,” Battaglio wrote.

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