The final Oscar ratings are in … and they are bad. Really bad. The show had its lowest ratings in six years with 37.3 million total viewers, which was a 14 percent drop from 2014. And even their key demographic didn’t tune in, making it the lowest performing show for 18-49 year olds since 2008.
The hosting skills of Neil Patrick Harris aren’t entirely to blame here, though, the twitter-verse may beg to differ. The real issue is that the typical viewer not only hadn’t heard of some of these movies, but likely wouldn’t have had a chance to see them even if they had. The domestic box office for Birdman was only $37 million. With an average movie ticket price of $8.17, this suggests about 4.5 million people got a chance to see the Best Picture winner.
Even avid filmgoers who actively seek out nominated films in advance had a lot of legwork to do. Take Julianne Moore’s Oscar-winning turn in Still Alice as an example. It only opened on 765 screens (and still has not cracked the $8 million dollar mark), and that’s after her Golden Globes win in January. If you wanted to see it, you’d probably have to trek to a smaller art-house theater, and hope to catch one of the handful of viewings a day.
Only a few of these films are available online at this point. With short-attention spans and a growth in instant access, the casual viewer is far more likely to see Julianne Moore’s face in their On Demand queue than they are to trek out in a possible winter storm to a theater far from their house.
And then there’s the fact that political speeches and the subsequent uproar about them is far more intriguing than anything that actually happened on stage. Patricia Arquette (who won for Boyhood) earned big cheers from Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez after she called for equal pay for women, but now there’s a backlash against her from conservatives, and even some liberal supporters who didn’t like what she said backstage after she accepted her award.
Trying to follow up her powerful speech, she added: “The truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, there are huge issues that are at play that really do affect women. It’s time for all … the gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” This sentiment did not go over well with women of color, or really anyone, and the actress has spent a lot of time defending her remarks on twitter.
And she wasn’t the only actor who managed to offend a large chunk of the viewing audience. Sean Penn went off script when presenting director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu with his Academy Award for Best Picture by saying: “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?”
What!? No wonder this stirred up an instant storm of furious tweets from the Mexican and Latino community. Even though Penn considered this a “joke”, as he and the director are longtime friends, it was in poor taste. It took away from the positive attention that should have been given to this director, and his film. After all, recognizing the talent and the hard work that went into making a movie is what this show is ostensibly supposed to be about. But Penn’s comment was also inappropriate, especially on a night that had already been called out for a lack of diversity in the nominees, in an industry that also has a distinct lack of Latinos in the mainstream market.
Iñarritu classily took this in stride and used the moment to spotlight his issues with the Mexican government and his thoughts on immigration, which turned an unnecessary “joke” into a powerful moment. And backstage the director shrugged it off as funny. But for viewers, Penn’s comment made the Oscars end on a truly sour note.