My Model Predicted This Year’s Oscar Ratings

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Today’s article is about a prediction I didn’t make, but should have. And it’s a good lesson to “trust your models”.

Specifically, let’s talk Oscar ratings.

First, let me admit that I would have got the Oscar’s ratings wrong, predicting a little bit over 20 million viewers for this year’s ceremony. Partially, I erred on the high side because I didn’t realize that the show was starting at 4:00 pm on the West coast, but I thought the Barbenheimer hype (even though I normally really, really hate hype, especially online hype) would help.

My exact math was that this year’s ceremony would be 10% bigger than last year’s. I thought that…

  • The Oscars ceremony would continue its natural growth from a successful show last year.
  • Nominating two big blockbusters this year would match last year’s interest levels (since the 2023 show also had two blockbusters in Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water).
  • But this year’s blockbusters had tons of natural social media interest.
  • Last year’s telecast went up against The Last of Us’s season finale, lowering ratings.
  • Ratings were generally up across the board for awards shows this year, except for the Emmys, which went up against football.

Conversely, my researcher/editor predicted the ratings would be flat, arguing that…

  • There were the same number of blockbusters as last year. 
  • And even if Barbenheimer was buzzier, that increased buzz would be balanced out by 2023’s cord-cutting losses.
  • Plus the earlier start time, combined with daylight savings time, would kill the West coast audience.
  • And there were no additional “popular” films compared to last year. Really, outside of the first three films, most regular moviegoers had never heard of the rest of the Best Picture nominees.

In the end…the Oscars had 19.5 million viewers, up 4% from the year before. 

So let’s update my Oscars tracker!

I wish I’d listened to myself when I wrote, in January, that the Academy needed to nominate one more popular film or another blockbuster (Like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse.) And since they didn’t, the ratings were almost flat. In this case, the model that tracks “blockbuster/popular films nominated for Best Picture” to ratings works really, really well!

(The only caveat is that when it comes to annual events, predictions are tough because the small sample size is too small. Beware monocausal explanations for anything! And this event certainly had a more than a few potential forces (start time, popularity of the films, continued cord cutting, and so on) working for and against each other.)

Conversely, reading the industry trades and other commentary, you’d think that the Oscars were “back” and I don’t see it yet, at least not in the ratings. And this complacency isn’t helpful. Disney/the Academy can do a lot more to increase the ratings and they should. 

So let me reiterate my advice from earlier this year:

  • The Academy needs to keep nominating more popular movies. (And two blockbuster movies a year won’t cut it.)
  • The Academy also needs to nominate popular songs. “I Am Ken” was the biggest and best moment in the broadcast; imagine if Timothee Chalomet had sung a Wonka as well. Or the cast from The Color Purple!
  • Move the nominations announcement to primetime.
  • Change the ceremony back to an 8:00 start time. It didn’t work. The show can’t start both before prime time on the East coast and before dinnertime on the West coast.

But most critically…

At this point, so many TV viewers are cord-cutters, and the Academy and Disney are just ignoring this audience. I’d guess there might be five to eight million or more viewers that ABC/Disney/the Academy are just losing out on. 

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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