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What is the Ratings Outlook for the 92nd Annual Academy Awards on ABC?

Several media professionals weigh in on the TV audience of this year's ceremony

The hectic awards season culminates in 2020 earlier in the calendar year than in previous years, as the Academy Awards — the 92nd edition — takes place this Sunday, Feb. 9.

The year of 2019 continued recent trends in cinema. Warner Bros.’ “Joker”, another highly-acclaimed comic book flick that grossed $1 billion worldwide, has been the recipient of much recognition, especially for star Joaquin Phoenix. Netflix, a tour-de-force in the world of television for the past decade, is also making a significant impact in cinema. They are the outlet to garner the most nominations with 24, thanks to ten of those noms going to Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and six for the relationship drama “Marriage Story”.

And like each of the Oscars during the past few decades, favorites from independent film have also come into focus. The South Korean thriller “Parasite” has picked up a slew of foreign language and directing trophies this winter. The offbeat World War II-set comedy-drama “Jojo Rabbit” was a critical favorite as well.

The 92nd Oscars will try going without a host for the second consecutive year. Last year’s ceremony moved at a brisker pace and the ratings seemed to benefit, improving by 3 million viewers from the previous year. However, other factors were in play then: the billion-dollar “Black Panther” was a serious contender for Best Picture, the popular rock band Queen had a major presence due to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and perhaps most significant of all last year, music superstar Lady Gaga was not only a contender to win Best Actress for her role in “A Star is Born” but also a shoo-in to be awarded in the Best Original Song category for her Billboard No. 1 hit “Shallow”. Her live performance of that song with Bradley Cooper was the night’s most memorable moment.

This year, the ceremony won’t have such aspects. In the lead-up to Oscar night, the aforementioned Joaquin Phoenix has won multiple awards for his role as The Joker, but the film itself has largely been ignored in other categories despite being the leader in number of Oscar nominations. Some box office hits, like the World War I epic “1917” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood”, are in contention for Best Picture but do not nearly draw the amount of buzz as other Best Picture contenders in recent years — particularly in the comic book genre — have gotten. Elton John may be the largest star performing a Best Original Song-nominated tune this year (for “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” from the biopic “Rocketman”) but as legendary he is, he won’t resonate as well with modern audiences as Lady Gaga did last year.

Last year’s Emmy Awards on Fox attempted the same no-host strategy, and it resulted in a steep 30 percent drop from the previous year to a new record low of just below 7 million viewers. Of course, the TV industry is not the film industry (even though the presence of Netflix is gradually making both less distinctive), and the Oscars is the premier award show in entertainment. Could the Oscars fall below the Grammys and Golden Globes in audience? I cannot foresee that occurring nor a fall of more than 20 percent year-to-year. The award season will not be drawn out this time around, due to the earlier-than-usual date for the Oscars (it normally gets a late February or early March slot) and that certainly helps matters. But I do project a 15 percent decline (from 29.6 million in Feb. 2019), making for a new record low of 25.5 million in 2020 — still, a potent viewer figure in today’s TV world but nowhere near the mark of even as recently as 2017 (33 million).

I inquired with professionals in the media industry to provide their ratings prognostications for the upcoming Academy Awards. To compare or contrast with my predictions, here are their takes:

Marc Berman, Programming Insider editor-in-chief

26.29 million. With more nominated films this year originating from Netflix, I don’t imagine as many people are seeing them. And that could very well tune into fewer viewers.

Tony Maglio, TV editor at The Wrap

27.94 million. The bloom is off the rose with the whole hostless thing, there’s no “Black Panther,” there have been very few bigtime box office hits this season and the show is more and more politicized every year. I won’t make it a record low, but I don’t have (relatively) high expectations.

Austin Karp, Sports Business Journal Managing Editor/Digital

30.4 million viewers. The power of “live” programming is more important than ever, and this is a big event. People still LOVE the movies. A new host could potentially lead to an even bigger hike, but we’ll have to wait for that.

Scott Nolte, KUYY deejay/sports announcer

Based on some of the Oscars ratings of recent years, I’m going to go somewhere in the middle and this year, I’m going to say 28.4 million viewers.

Jason Jacobs, KUOO deejay/sports announcer

Just like all the other award shows, I predict this year’s Oscars will be down. I don’t see the hype that we had a year ago for Queen and Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper. There’s still some fairly recognizable movies up for awards though so that will help. I will say it matches 2018 and has 26.6 million.