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Oscars telecast draws 19.5 million viewers, up 4% from last year

Hollywood, CA - March 10: Ryan Gosling during the live telecast of the 96th Annual Academy Awards in Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, CA, Sunday, March 10, 2024. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Ryan Gosling performs "I'm Just Ken" during the 96th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A lively Oscars ceremony boosted by two genuine blockbuster best picture nominees in "Oppenheimer" and "Barbie" helped boost the ABC telecast to its largest audience since 2020.

The 96th Academy Awards ceremony Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood was watched on ABC by an average audience of 19.5 million viewers, a 4% increase over 2023, according to Nielsen data. Last year's telecast drew an audience of 18.7 million on average.

The ratings performance marks the third consecutive year the Oscars has grown since hitting an all-time low of 10.5 million viewers in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Oscars telecast is typically the highest rated nonsports program of the year, but it no longer scores 30 million viewers or more as it once did. The tendency of younger consumers to watch video clips online has driven down the ratings of all live awards shows in recent years.

Audiences also tune out when the academy voters celebrate smaller art house films not widely known to the broader TV audience.

But this year's ceremony, emceed by ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel, had the double-barreled box office bang of "Oppenheimer" and "Barbie" going for it. The two films had a combined global box office take of $2.4 billion.

The decision to move the start of the telecast an hour earlier to 4 p.m. Pacific apparently didn't hurt. The program finished around 10:30 p.m. for viewers on the East Coast, who in past years had to hang on until midnight to see the best picture award presentation.

Read more: Awards shows are struggling to draw TV audiences. Should the Oscars be worried?

The start of the telecast was delayed for five minutes due to pro-Palestinian protesters who blocked traffic and forced some of the attendees to exit their black cars and head to the theater on foot.

The program had two buzz-worthy moments. A nearly nude John Cena showed up in a comic homage to the streaker who ran across the stage at the 1974 Oscars ceremony. Cena was presenting the award for costume design.

Ryan Gosling's highly anticipated performance of "I'm Just Ken" from "Barbie" was a major triumph, thanks in part to a surprise appearance by Guns N' Roses lead guitarist Slash.

The acting categories were introduced individually by five previous winners, giving the program an opportunity to load the stage with more star power.

As expected, "Oppenheimer" was the big winner of the night, earning seven trophies, including best picture. The film's director, Christopher Nolan, lead actor Cilian Murphy and supporting actor Robert Downey Jr. were all honored.

Lead actress went to Emma Stone for her performance in "Poor Things." Da'Vine Joy Randoph won in the supporting actress category for "The Holdovers."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.