Oscars 2021: audience plummets to record low as ceremony attracts fewer than 10 million viewers

The Academy Awards follows other shows held during the pandemic that have also suffered precipitous declines in viewership

This year's Oscars audience plummeted by more than half to a record low 9.85 million viewers, broadcaster ABC said on Monday – a staggering if widely expected drop for a ceremony that many viewers found short on humour and star power.

The whopping 58 per cent tumble from last year's previous 23.6 million nadir had been anticipated for Hollywood's biggest night, after other award shows held during the pandemic also suffered precipitous declines.

With cinemas shut for most of the year, many viewers had not seen or even heard of nominees such as Chloe Zhao's Nomadland, which was the night's big winner with three prizes, but which has taken just more than $2 million at the US box office.

Chloe Zhao accepts the Oscar for Directing during the live ABC Telecast of The 93rd Oscars in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 25, 2021. ABC/A.M.P.A.S./Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO MARKETING OR ADVERTISING IS PERMITTED WITHOUT THE PRIOR CONSENT OF A.M.P.A.S AND MUST BE DISTRIBUTED AS SUCH. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. TABLOIDS OUT; NO BOOK PUBLISHING WITHOUT PRIOR APPROVAL.

Several blockbuster films whose stars could have drawn interest at this year's Oscars had their release dates shunted to next year due to the pandemic, from Steven Spielberg's West Side Story and the mega-budget sci-fi Dune to an array of popular superhero titles.

Scroll through our gallery above to see the winners from the 93rd Academy Awards.

That exodus left an unfamiliar crop of nominees competing at Sunday's ceremony, with Daniel Kaluuya and Youn Yuh-jung winning the supporting acting Oscars a year after Brad Pitt and Laura Dern prevailed.

One big name who did win – but was in bed sleeping about 8,000 kilometres away in Wales – was Anthony Hopkins, who was unexpectedly named best actor for The Father in what was the night's final prize.

The Oscars typically end with best picture, but producers decided to reorganise the categories – and the lack of an acceptance speech at the show's grand finale was criticised by many viewers as anti-climactic.

"At 83 years of age, I did not expect to get this award, I really didn't," said Hopkins in a video posted to his Instagram page from Wales on Monday morning.

"I want to pay tribute to Chadwick Boseman who was taken from us far too early," he added, referring to the late Black Panther star who had been expected to win Best Actor for his final role in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

This year's unorthodox Oscars ceremony was moved from a Hollywood theatre to a glammed-up Los Angeles train station to abide by strict Covid-19 protocols, and reunited Hollywood filmmakers and actors en masse for the first time in more than a year.

Reviews of the show were mixed, with several critics complaining about the show's lack of humour and musical performances.

While many Oscars begin with gag-heavy monologues, producers turned this year to Regina King, who was one of many stars who referred to racism and police violence – specifically last week's conviction of Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

"I know that a lot of you people at home want to reach for your remote when you feel like Hollywood is preaching to you," she predicted.

Variety slammed the decision to go without a host for a third straight year, calling the ceremony "lost and guide-less".

But the decision to strip out musical performances and most clips of nominated films – and allow winners to speak at length without being "played off" the stage by an orchestra – drew some praise.

Deadline called the "relatively fast-paced and deeply personal ceremony" a "true Hollywood reinvigoration".

The ratings drop also continues a broader, multi-year downward trend for the Academy Awards – and most other award shows.

The Oscars drew more than 43 million viewers as recently as 2014, but audiences have become increasingly fragmented in the streaming era.

The 9.85 million viewing figure is based on early Nielson data ordered by ABC, with an official ratings release expected on Tuesday.

Scroll through the gallery below to see photos from the Oscars red carpet.

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