Overnight returns have the near four-hour show averaging an 18.9 overnight Nielsen rating — a number equating roughly to the percentage of America’s estimated 118.4 million households that tuned in — according to trade weeklies Variety and the Hollywood Reporter.
That represents a 16 percent drop on last year’s telecast, which will go down in infamy for its disastrous climax, when the wrong movie was briefly awarded best picture due to a mix-up with the envelopes.
Experts stress that preliminary ratings are not adjusted for time zone differences, meaning the live west coast audience is not accurately reflected in the overnight numbers, as they only measure primetime hours.
The 2017 Academy Awards, which earned a 22.4 overnight rating, ended up drawing 32.9 million viewers. It was the second lowest in Academy history after the 2008 show, hosted by Jon Stewart, pulled in just 31.8 million.
At three hours and 50 minutes — one minute more than last year — the show was the longest since 2007, although host Jimmy Kimmel earned praise for keeping proceedings flowing well in his second consecutive year presenting.
“It was a show in which nearly every winner had been exhaustively pre-ordained by the endless awards season, but one in which first-time and long-overdue winners still brought the crowd to its feet,” the Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg said in a review.
“It was a show of empowering and emotional speeches and inspirational recipients often back-to-back with figures whose embrace went against everything the show’s politics seemed to stand for.”
All three big set piece television events so far — the Golden Globes, the Grammys and the Super Bowl — have all returned lower audiences than in 2017.
Stephen Battaglio, the author of three books about television, speculated in the Los Angeles Times that viewers may have become weary of speeches from the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements against sexual harassment and gender inequality in the entertainment industry.
“In a particularly insider-y moment,” said Battagglio, “lead actress winner Frances McDormand finished an otherwise emotional tribute to the other female nominees with the term ‘inclusion rider,’ referring to a contractual clause that requires a specific level of diversity in the cast and crew of a project.”