ABC Credits Earlier Oscar Start For Modest Audience Uptick

ABC is crediting an earlier start time as the main driver of a small uptick in viewership for the Oscars on Sunday.

Total, live viewership for “The 96th Oscars” was 19.5 million, according to ABC -- up 700,000 from 2023’s total audience of 18.8 million.

Certainly, an increase is better than a decrease, but the ABC publicity department -- bless their hearts -- positioned the 700,000 year-to-year increase in a press release on Monday as “nearly 1 million more.” “One million” sounds better than “700,000.”

This year’s Oscars started an hour earlier at 7 p.m. Eastern. Traditionally, the telecast began each year at 8 p.m. Eastern with running times well over three hours, with some running close to midnight.



Sunday's show ended just before 10:30 p.m. Eastern. Although it ran for three-and-a-half hours, the earlier end time made it easier to sit through the entire show without creating anxiety about the workday or school day on Monday morning.

The earlier start time made sense for several reasons. The potential for an increase in viewership was just one of them.

For one thing, prime time does start at 7 p.m. on Sunday nights anyway, so why shouldn't the Oscars start then too?

The Super Bowl provides a template for Oscar scheduling. The big game always kicks off around 6:30 p.m. Eastern -- fun for the whole family, neighbors and friends, and no staying up late.

ABC also took up the opportunity to take a page from the Super Bowl playbook to schedule an episode of one of its prime-time shows right after.

The play was a good call. The show, “Abbott Elementary,” neatly filled the final half hour of prime time -- 10:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern leading into local news.

The show earned a series high in total, live audience (6.9 million) and 18-49 ratings (1.42), ABC said.

No matter how small, the Oscars' audience increase is good news because, at the very least, it represents growth, not shrinkage.

Just three years ago in 2021, the telecast scored a record low in total audience, 10.4 million. It has increased each year ever since.

With this year's 19.5 million, ABC and the Oscars can claim to have grown its viewership 47% in three years.

The Oscar show was the second major awards show of the year to build its audience year to year. The other was the Grammys on CBS February 4.

This year's show drew a total, live audience of 16.9 million, up from 12.4 million in 2023. In January, the Golden Globes also improved -- 9.4 million this year -- up from 6.3 million in 2023.

Still on the decline: TV's own Emmy Awards. They fell to their lowest viewership ever on Fox in January, a lowly 4.3 million.

True, they were held at an unprecedented time of year -- mid-winter instead of fall -- due to last year's writers' and actors' strikes.

But total audience for the previous Emmys in 2022 was also a record low, 5.92 million. That show was held at its usual time, in the fall.

Where the Oscars' earlier start time is concerned, perhaps some other providers of live, event content might consider the same strategy to boost viewership and grow new audiences.

One comes to mind immediately: Baseball, whose fall playoffs run notoriously long and late -- too late for many adults but also children who would be baseball's next generation of fans if they could only stay up for the World Series.

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