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.
“Does the Academy want this kind of publicity? No, they don´t. They don´t want the kind of publicity that says violence takes place at the Oscars,” Variety´s Marc Malkin told AFP.
“That said, does it make more people talk about the Oscars in the Academy? For certain. I´m just not sure this is the way they want to be talked about.”
The TV ratings recovery mirrors those of several other awards shows including television´s Emmys in September and the recent Screen Actors Guild award ceremonies.
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.
Official ratings will be released on Tuesday.