Oscars 2012, Will Anyone be Watching?


Image from: Tatiana Popova / Shutterstock

Now that Super Bowl XLVI has aired (with a home team loss), I’ve been thinking about the next big event for network TV: The 84th Academy Awards. While the trend for Super Bowl viewership has been rising for several years now (the 2011 game was the most watched program in TV history), Oscar’s ratings have been on the decline. After a positive bump in 2010, ratings were down again in 2011 by about 10%.

There are several theories as to why ratings slipped; most revolve around talent of the hosts and popularity of the nominated films. Snarking on the hosts is easy, but I don’t know anyone who watches award shows based on who is presenting. So, I won’t put too much blame (or praise) at Billy Crystal’s feet for the 2012 ratings.

More interesting is the reported correlation between nominated movie box office and ratings. It feels right to say that viewers will tune in to see if a movie they have seen wins an award. And the bigger the box office, the more people potentially care about the film. But is it actually true? ABC better hope not because if it is, this year’s Oscars ratings will be much lower than last year’s. Compared to box office receipts of past nominated films at comparable times of the year (via boxofficemojo.com), the current crop of nominees have made less that have of the 2011 and a third of the 2010 films.

2010 nominated films:

Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air

2010 total nominated box office (as of feb 5 2010): $1,531,005,145

2010 TV ratings: 41.7 million (0.027 viewers per dollar)

2011 nominated films:

Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone

2011 total nominated box office (as of feb 4 2012): $1,244,746,772

2011 TV ratings: 36.7 million (0.029 viewers per dollar)

2012 nominated films:

The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

2012 total nominated box office (as of feb 3 2012): $567,129,551

2012 TV ratings: ?? (If popular wisdom is true, ABC can expect a dismal 17 million viewers this year)

But TV ratings aren’t the whole story. Consumers are growing less dependent traditional media like television every year. As a web developer here at Compete, I’m particularly interested in what was happening online. And the internet was much better for the Oscars than TV was last year.

First, take a look at this traffic graph to the Oscars.org site for the last 24 months.

UVs to Oscars.org

TV viewership may have dropped by 3 million between 2010 and 2011, but web traffic to the official site was up by 100,000 unique visitors year over year for the month of the show. People still want to know who won, but – at least last year – were less willing to watch the actual broadcast to get it.

The official site isn’t the only place to go for Oscar info, of course; Go.com (the official ABC network site) and Wikipedia both get significant traffic for the keyword “Academy Awards.”

Sites referred to by Academy Awards

Another place we are all increasingly turning to is Twitter. Those that watched live kept their followers updated via live-blogging. And in Twitter traffic at least, the Academy Awards seemed to hold its own with the Super Bowl last year.

So how many of us watch the envelopes open on February 26th? I guess we’ll all know in 3 weeks.