Oscars ratings bounce back, as Will Smith hooks viewers

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 29 2022 02:51 AM

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The Oscars were in desperate need of a ratings boost. And, on a night when Will Smith stunned viewers by slapping Chris Rock on stage, some 15.36 million Americans tuned in.

Preliminary audience figures, revealed by broadcaster ABC on Monday, represent a significant recovery from last year's record-low 9.85 million live viewers, although they are still the second-lowest in televised Academy Awards history.

The moment when Smith struck comedian Rock for quipping about his wife's hair-loss condition immediately went viral online, launching countless memes and opinions both defending and condemning the best actor winner.

The ratings recovery mirrors those of several other awards shows including television's Emmys in September and the recent Screen Actors Guild award ceremonies. 

Will Smith swings at host Chris Rock during the 94th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles on March 27, 2022. Etienne Laurent, Shutterstock Out/EPA-EFE
Will Smith swings at host Chris Rock during the 94th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles on March 27, 2022. Etienne Laurent, Shutterstock Out/EPA-EFE

Many award shows were forced to stage virtual or low-key ceremonies in 2021 because of the pandemic, and drew unusually low audiences.

Oscars figures last year fell by around 50 percent from the previous ceremony's 23.6 million, which was already a record low, as award shows struggle to remain relevant in an era of social media and binge-watching on streaming networks.

Academy producers this year resorted to innovations such as pre-taping the announcements of winners in several less starry Oscars categories, and adding a "fan favorite" prize for a film voted by Twitter users.

Sunday night's show also ended with a historic win for "CODA," which featured a mainly deaf cast, and was the first best picture triumph for a streaming service.

But it was an unscripted and highly controversial moment that created the Oscars' talking point Sunday, as Smith strode onto the Oscars stage and slapped Rock for a joke comparing his wife Jada Pinkett Smith to the character "G.I. Jane."

Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, a condition causing hair loss.

Official ratings will be released on Tuesday.