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The Renaissance of Live Event Television

In an era dominated by streaming services and on-demand entertainment, the resurgence of live event television is a narrative worth following. The 96th Academy Awards, broadcasted by ABC, has become a testament to this revival, drawing an impressive 19.5 million viewers, a four-year peak according to Nielsen data. This marks a consecutive third year of growth from last year’s 18.8 million viewers, signaling a robust comeback for live television events.

The strategic move by ABC and the Academy to commence the awards ceremony an hour earlier at 7 p.m. Eastern was aimed at retaining viewership throughout the event, especially during the latter categories. This decision, along with the nominations of box office sensations like “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” paid off. It’s a notable shift from recent years where lesser-known films predominantly graced the ceremony. Jimmy Kimmel’s acclaimed return as host for the fourth time, nearing Johnny Carson’s record, also contributed to the night’s success.

Highlighting the broader trend, Nielsen’s report identified the Oscars as the most-watched network awards show since February 2020. This resurgence is part of a larger pattern where mass cultural events have regained their appeal post-pandemic. The Grammy Awards and the Golden Globes experienced significant viewership increases of 34 percent and 50 percent, respectively. The Super Bowl set a new benchmark with 123.7 million viewers, and even the Tony Awards saw a modest uptick in audience numbers.

Noteworthy moments from the Oscars included Billie Eilish’s rendition of “What Am I Made For?” and Ryan Gosling’s memorable performance in “I’m Just Ken,” drawing on classic Hollywood influences. ABC’s successful sale of advertising slots, with rates ranging from $1.7 to $2.2 million for a 30-second spot, underscores the event’s commercial viability.

Comparatively, the pandemic-hit 2021 Oscars, hosted at a Los Angeles train station, saw a dip to 10.4 million viewers. The event witnessed a recovery in 2022 with 16.6 million viewers, partly fueled by the unexpected incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock. This trajectory reflects not only the resilience of live event television but also the changing landscape of TV viewership, which saw the Oscars audience never dip below 32 million before 2018.

This resurgence of live event TV underscores a renewed appetite for shared cultural moments, perhaps a pendulum swing back from the isolation-induced by streaming’s rise. As traditional TV adapts and thrives in the modern digital era, the success of events like the Oscars signals a promising horizon for live broadcasts, blending the allure of real-time spectacle with the timeless charm of cinema and celebrity.