U.S. TV audience for Oscars jumps, hostless show earns praise

(Reuters) - The first hostless Academy Awards broadcast in 30 years attracted a 12 percent bigger U.S. television audience to Walt Disney Co’s ABC than last year’s record-low viewership, the network said on Monday.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

Sunday night’s live telecast drew an average audience of 29.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen data released by ABC. In 2018, the Oscars show averaged 26.5 million viewers, a record low and down from 32.9 million in 2017.

This year’s ratings jump was a victory for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the show’s producers, who were under pressure to expand the audience as overall TV viewership is on the decline.

The ceremony opened with a performance by rock band Queen, featuring “American Idol” star Adam Lambert as lead vocalist. The show ran about 40 minutes shorter than the 2018 program and eschewed its typical opening monologue for short celebrity cameos.

Many TV critics praised the broadcast, saying the lack of a host made the show move quickly and forced the producers to think creatively about how to entertain viewers.

“I have to say it really worked,” wrote Kristopher Tapley of Variety. “Who knew you didn’t need a host?”

This year’s ceremony relied heavily on the two music-themed contenders in the best picture race, “A Star Is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” to help set the tone. An intimate duet by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga of Oscar-winning song “Shallow” “was show-stopping territory,” Tapley said.

“On film’s big night, it wasn’t the magic of Hollywood that saved this year’s show. It was the power of music,” added Lorraine Ali of the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the nominated movies were box-office hits, a contrast to recent years when the Oscars centered around arthouse films seen by a limited audience. Road trip movie “Green Book” triumphed over “Roma” to win best picture.

Not everyone liked the hostless format.

“The 2019 Oscar telecast lacked energy and comedy, and was treacherously dull. And maybe that could have been avoided if the Academy had done what it has (almost) always done, and procured a host,” wrote Kelly Lawler in USA Today.

Comedian Kevin Hart withdrew from the hosting job in December after past homophobic tweets resurfaced. It was only the second time the show went without a host in its 91-year history.

The Nielsen data for the Oscars does not include viewing of on digital and mobile platforms. ABC owns U.S. broadcast rights for the Oscars through 2028.

Reporting by Meredith Mazzilli in New York; Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Nick Zieminski