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Oscars: Is There a Correlation Between Ceremony Runtime and TV Ratings?

Jimmy Kimmel (Courtesy: ABC/Jeff Lipsky)

Jimmy Kimmel (Courtesy: ABC/Jeff Lipsky)

By: Carson Blackwelder
Managing Editor

The time has arrived: the 89th Academy Awards will occur tomorrow, February 26, and we’ll finally know which films and which stars will take home those coveted statues. This is one of the most talked-about events on TV each year but, while everyone is excited for the spectacle and excitement of it all, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t garner critics. Before you go complaining about the show, let’s educate you on some statistics.

With Jimmy Kimmel hosting the show on ABC — at 8 p.m. ET and 5 p.m. PT, of course — we know we’re all in for quite the entertaining three-plus hours of glitz and glamour. It’s almost certain that La La Land will dominate the awards and it’s almost a given that a ton of people will utter Donald Trump’s name in some way. Two things we can’t know at this point are the length of the ceremony and how many people will tune in — but we can look at the historical data there to gauge how things might end up.

Let’s first tackle the shortest and the longest ceremonies in history then move on and add the lowest-rated and the highest-rated ceremonies in history. All of these Academy Awards we’ll be mentioning here came from the TV era of the Oscars — which means they all came after the 1953 ceremony. In fact, they’ll be more recent than that as we had to stick with ceremonies that have corresponding ratings. Plus, with each of these entries, we’ll be putting the best picture winner in parentheses to give some perspective.

The 10 shortest ceremonies are: the 42nd in 1970 (Midnight Cowboy), the 58th in 1986 (Out of Africa), the 77th in 2005 (Million Dollar Baby), the 84th in 2012 (The Artist), the 83rd in 2011 (The King’s Speech), the 66th in 1994 (Schindler’s List), the 59th in 1987 (Platoon), the 61st in 1989 (Rain Man), the 80th in 2008 (No Country for Old Men), and the 73rd in 2001 (Gladiator). The 10 longest ceremonies are: the 74th in 2002 (A Beautiful Mind), the 72nd in 2000 (American Beauty), the 71st in 1999 (Shakespeare in Love), the 79th in 2007 (The Departed), the 70th in 1998 (Titanic), the 76th in 2004 (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), the 56th in 1984 (Terms of Endearment), the 87th in 2015 (Birdman), the 68th in 1996 for (Braveheart), and the 49th in 1977 (Rocky).

The 10 lowest-rated ceremonies are: the 80th in 2008 (No Country for Old Men), the 75th in 2003 (Chicago), the 87th in 2015 (Birdman), the 81st in 2009 (Slumdog Millionaire), the 83rd in 2011 (The King’s Speech), the 78th in 2006 (Crash), the 88th in 2016 (Spotlight), the 79th in 2007 (The Departed), the 84th in 2012 (The Artist), and the 85th in 2013 (Argo). The 10 highest-rated ceremonies are: the 42nd in 1970 (Midnight Cowboy), the 56th in 1984 (Terms of Endearment), the 70th in 1998 (Titanic), the 67th in 1995 (Forrest Gump), the 65th in 1993 (Unforgiven), the 66th in 1994 (Schindler’s List), the 50th in 1978 (Annie Hall), the 68th in 1996 (Braveheart), the 64th in 1992 (The Silence of the Lambs), and the 72nd in 2000 (American Beauty).

As you can likely see, there are some overlaps between these various segments — so let’s see how the length of a show relates to the ratings. There are two of the shortest ceremonies that were the highest-rated ever: the 42nd in 1970 (Midnight Cowboy) and the 66th in 1994 (Schindler’s List). There are also two of the longest that were the lowest-rated ever: the 79th in 2007 (The Departed) and the 87th in 2015 (Birdman). Both of these examples are overshadowed — if only slightly — by the opposites.

On the flip side, we potentially learn more about the relationships between the length of the show and the ratings than the previous two distinctions. There are three of the shortest ceremonies that were the lowest-rated ever: the 80th in 2008 (No Country for Old Men), the 83rd in 2011 (The King’s Speech), and the 84th in 2012 (The Artist). Then there are four of the longest ceremonies that were the highest-rated ever: the 68th in 1996 (Braveheart), the 56th in 1984 (Terms of Endearment), the 56th in 1984 (Terms of Endearment), and the 72nd in 2000 (American Beauty).

What it basically boils down to is that — while these breakdowns are pretty even and no one combination of ceremony runtime and ratings is truly convincing — it seems that a shorter ceremony doesn’t equal higher ratings and a longer ceremony doesn’t equal lower ratings. The thing we can see from this data, however, is that ceremonies post-2000 seem to have lower ratings no matter what and pre-2000 ceremonies have higher ratings. That shouldn’t exactly be a surprise as it’s a common fact that, while there are upticks and outliers sometimes, ratings have generally continued to fall year after year.

Let’s see how this year’s Academy Awards ceremony is placed in regards to how long it will prove to be and just how well their ratings will turn out. Perhaps the draw of La La Land’s potential history-making wins, Kimmel’s sure-to-be-hilarious jokes, or your favorite Hollywood star speaking out politically will be enough to bring lots of eyes to the end of awards season. Hopefully — in an ideal world, at least — we’ll have an Oscar ceremony that ends right on time and draws back major ratings for film’s big night.

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