Oscars get audience bump from ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer,’ but ratings aren’t quite a blockbuster

Ryan Gosling performs the song "I'm Just Ken" from the movie "Barbie" during the Oscars on Sunday, March 10, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Ryan Gosling performs the song “I’m Just Ken” from the movie “Barbie” during the Oscars on Sunday, March 10, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Barbenheimer” brought a bump not a boom to Oscars ratings.

An estimated 19.5 million people watched Sunday night’s 96th Academy Awards ceremony on ABC. That’s the biggest number drawn by the telecast in four years.

But that upward trend comes from an all-time low during the pandemic, and is up just 4% from last year’s estimated audience of 18.7 million, according to numbers released Monday by ABC.

The Academy experimented with scheduling this year’s show an hour earlier, and for the first time in years had many nominations for huge hit movies that viewers had actually seen — “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.”

The viewership peaked in the final half hour, when the audience saw Ryan Gosling perform “I’m Just Ken” from “Barbie,” saw Cillian Murphy win best actor, Christopher Nolan win best director for ”Oppenheimer” and Al Pacino give the film the best picture Oscar in an odd presentation.

A major star, Emma Stone, also won best actress in the final stretch in the the night’s most competitive race over Lily Gladstone, and nearly 22 million people saw her do it.

The show actually started a little less than an hour early. With Gaza protests happening outside slowing down entrances at the Dolby Theatre, host Jimmy Kimmel kicked things off about six minutes late, but it’s not clear if that affected viewership.

Last year’s big Oscar winner, “Everything, Everywhere All at Once,” was hardly a slouch at the box office, bringing in $143 million globally. But that’s nothing like the “Barbenheimer” juggernaut, with “Oppenheimer” approaching a billion global dollars and “Barbie” surpassing it.

But they didn’t yield the same ballooning numbers for the show that the Academy and ABC might have hoped for.

The Oscars did top the viewership of the most recent versions of other top awards shows, which have gone through similar slumps. Its 19.5 million outdrew the 16.9 million people who watched the Grammys in February, and the Golden Globes and Emmy Awards in January each had far fewer viewers.

For many years, the Academy Awards were often the second most-watched television program of the year behind the Super Bowl. Until 2018, the Oscar telecast had never slipped below 30 million viewers, according to Nielsen records. The high-water mark was the 55 million people who watched “Titanic” clean up in 1998.

From the 43.7 million who watched in 2014, viewership declined steadily to 26.5 million in 2018, then went back up to 29.6 million in 2019, and 23.6 million in 2020. The bottom fell out with the pandemic-diminished show in 2021, seen by 9.85 million. It began rebounding in 2022 — the year of the Slap — with 16.6 million.

The movies and their makers aren’t entirely to blame. The generational shift to streaming and other video forms has gutted broadcast television viewership, and few live events other than the Super Bowl draw the sort of audiences they once did.

The Oscars led into the sitcom “Abbott Elementary,” which had a series high in viewers with a 6.9 million. The episode had an Oscar tie-in, with Bradley Cooper, playing himself, getting roasted in a classroom after a long season of heavy Oscar campaigning.

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For more coverage of this year’s Academy Awards, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/academy-awards

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