LOS ANGELES (AFP) - This year's Oscars audience plummeted by more than half to a record low 9.85 million viewers, broadcaster ABC said on Monday (April 26) - 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 movie theatres in the United States shut for most of the year, many viewers had not seen or even heard of nominees such as director Chloe Zhao's Nomadland, which was the night's big winner with three prizes but which has taken just over US$2 million (S$2.7 million) at the domestic box office.
Several blockbuster films whose stars could have drawn interest at this year's Oscars saw their release dates shunted to next year due to the pandemic, from director Steven Spielberg's West Side Story and the mega-budget sci-fi Dune to an array of popular superhero titles.
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 some 8,000km 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 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 (2018) 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 former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of unarmed black man 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 movies - 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.