2020 Oscars telecast draws 23.6 million viewers on ABC, an all-time low

Brad Pitt accepts his award for supporting actor at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles Times)

The ratings comeback for the Oscars was short-lived as ABC’s telecast on Sunday was watched by 23.6 million viewers, an all-time low.

The 92nd Academy Awards ceremony from the Dolby Theatre was down 20% from 2019. Last year, the telecast was up 12% coming off its previous all-time low of 26.5 million viewers in 2018.

The ceremony presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was historic because of the surprising best picture win for “Parasite” — the first non-English-language film ever to take the trophy. But box office appeal is often an indicator for Oscar ratings, and the film from South Korean director Bong Joon Ho has only made about $35 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada.


The audience level for last year’s program rose because of the presence of Disney’s mega-hit “Black Panther,” which had seven nominations and three wins, and musical performances from Lady Gaga and Queen.

TV viewing for the Oscars and other awards shows have been under pressure in recent years as more viewers are watching video online. During live awards ceremonies, younger viewers tend to watch clips on social media sites instead of sitting through an entire three-hour-plus telecast.

“Parasite” was the big winner on Sunday, earning awards for direction, original screenplay and international film. Other major category winners included Joaquin Phoenix for lead actor in “The Joker,” Renée Zellweger for lead actress in “Judy,” Laura Dern for supporting actress in “Marriage Story,” and Brad Pitt for supporting actor in “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”

The ceremony had a sizable helping of political rhetoric, which has been considered a turnoff for some viewers and turned into talking points for right wing critics who seek to portray Hollywood figures as leftist, out-of-touch elites.

The most direct hit came from Pitt, who commented that the 45 seconds allotted for his acceptance speech was “more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” which was the only reference to the impeachment trial of President Trump. Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, offered to testify were the Senate to subpoena him. But the Senate voted not to allow witnesses at the trial. Trump was acquitted Wednesday.

The Oscars may also have provided the first-ever hat tip to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Upon receiving the documentary feature award for “American Factory,” co-director Julia Reichert briefly quoted The Communist Manifesto in her acceptance speech. “Working people have it harder and harder these days — and we believe that things will get better when workers of the world unite,” Reichert said.

But the Oscars is still very much about capitalism. Advertisers reportedly paid as much as $2.8 million for a 30-second commercial on the ABC telecast — up significantly from last year as demand for commercials on live TV events is strong. The ceremony is typically the most-watched entertainment program of the year and second overall to the Super Bowl, but the size of the audience is not guaranteed to advertisers.