(CNN) — Oscar ratings weathered a fungus-infected zombie invasion — in the form of the season finale of HBO’s hit drama “The Last of Us” — to post their second straight year-over-year improvement, regaining more of the audience lost as viewing plummeted during the pandemic.
The 95th annual Academy Awards averaged 18.7 million viewers, per Nielsen data, a 12% boost compared to last year, and the biggest audience for any awards show in three years. While that’s still low in historic terms, given the overall erosion of linear TV viewing, such gains are surely welcome for host network ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the awards.
The Oscars sank to a record-low audience of 10.5 million viewers in 2021, amid an across-the-board crash for award-show ratings. Last year’s telecast rebounded by nearly 60%, which still marked the second-worst TV numbers in the show’s history.
Oscar ratings had already been trending downward before the coronavirus shuttered theaters, attracting 23.6 million viewers in 2020, when the South Korean film “Parasite” earned its historic best-picture victory.
Having once flirted with introducing a “popular film” category to spur interest, the Academy has been hopeful that improved box office results and the nomination of two genuine blockbusters, “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” would help entice more viewers back to the broadcast.
Several factors have been dragging down award ratings, including the fact that highlights are readily available online without sitting through a three-hour-plus telecast. The audience is also more fragmented in the streaming age, and conservatives argue that the show’s political content has alienated some viewers.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a more modest theatrical success, took home the best picture prize, one of seven awards overall for the independent film. Notably, streaming titles “CODA” and “Nomadland” won the previous two years.
As for “The Last of Us,” the program’s ninth installment posted its highest linear rating thus far on HBO, with 8.2 million viewers Sunday despite the special competition.
By any measure, the video game adaptation has been a huge hit for the pay service. According to the network, the program’s episodic average from all platforms (including delayed viewing and HBO Max) for the first six episodes stands at 30.4 million viewers, exceeding the total for the “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon.”
Tune-in for the series steadily built from 4.7 million same-day viewers for the premiere in January. By way of comparison, the audience for the March 12 episode doubled that for “The White Lotus” second-season finale, which represented a high for that show.
HBO, which like CNN is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery, has already renewed “The Last of Us” for a second season. Executive producers Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann sent a letter to critics on Monday thanking them for all the “beautiful attention” they had showered on the series, a callback to a line from the third episode.
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