The curious case of the decline in Oscar’s ratings…

Admit it. You watch the Academy Awards. Not the entire Ten Commandments-length of the telecast, but you watch parts of it. Maybe you wait till the very end to see who won Best Picture, tune in to see what the stars are wearing, or (if you are like me) squirm at the obvious state of uneasiness when actors preside over millions of people worldwide with little to no rehearsal time. (Want to writhe in discomfort? Just remember David Letterman’s Oprah/Uma moment. Ugh.)

For advertisers, the Academy Awards is a ratings goldmine, second only to the Super Bowl. But for years now, Oscar’s ratings have plummeted. Last year, its Nielsen ratings recorded an all time low (31.7 million), which was not particularly surprising since the writers strike nullified any award season momentum leading up to the telecast. Last year’s ratings were even lower than the previous low-water mark of 33 million in 2003, a ceremony held just days after the country’s entrance into the Iraq War.

Outside of those outlying factors, what typically hinders or helps the show’s ratings? Does it matter who the host is? What about the selection of movies for Best Picture?

Heck, this year the Academy is actually acknowledging the ratings decline, going as far as keeping the list of celebrity presenters a secret, hoping you will tune in to find out which stars show up. This morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its nominations for Best Picture:

Pundits were astonished that The Dark Knight wasn’t on this list (it would have likely taken The Reader’s spot), mainly because it was critically acclaimed, widely praised by the popular audience, and made – and I’m no financier here – precisely one gazillion dollars at the box office.

Look, I’m not debating the quality of the above movies here, but advertisers, producers, and other money-making stakeholders want to reach the maximum audience in a concentrated amount of time. There is little doubt that the future and immediate present for the advertising industry resides on the Internet, and nowadays there are less and less “sure things” when it comes to capturing the mainstream television audience. But NFL games, the Olympics, and the Oscars always perform ratings magic. Plus, DVR owners seem to ease up on the fast forward button due to the live nature of these programs.

Do you think advertisers woke up this morning and weren’t disappointed that The Dark Knight didn’t garner more nominations? Theoretically, the mainstream viewing audience would have been more interested and likely to tune in longer, and this might have been the difference between an additional 4-6 million viewers. (The telecast from 10 years ago crowning the biggest money maker of all time, Titanic, scored 57.2 million viewership.)

Well, this year the advertisers can breathe a sigh of relief that at least Brad Pitt is nominated for Best Actor, and his film leads all others with 13 nominations. Maybe the mainstream audience who didn’t catch Frost/Nixon, Milk, or The Reader will tune in to at least see him smooching Angelina Jolie if he wins.

Brad Pitt kissing Angeline Jolie? Never mind. The advertisers might be smiling after all.

Adam Anderson

Adam Anderson is the managing editor of Bizmology. He has worked at Hoover's in several editor roles writing about various industries since 2004. He has his BS in media studies from the University of Texas. Follow Adam on Twitter.

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