The 2022 Academy Awards slaps up higher ratings (UPDATED)


The “slap seen around the world” takes dominates on night where it should have been about historic wins 

[Editor’s Note: This story was updated March 29 to add final Nielsen ratings and to make some minor corrections.]

Ratings for this year’s Academy Awards telecast increased from last year but as we know, this isn’t the biggest story if the above photo is any indication. We’ll talk about that later.

But we’ll start here with how many people watched. According to Nielsen, the Oscars drew final numbers of 16.62 million viewers and a 3.76 rating in the key 18-49 demo, up tremendously from last year’s total in both metrics – up 60 percent in total viewers and up 73 percent in the demo. Numbers also included out-of-home viewing.

On the other hand, the numbers fall short of the 2020 pre-pandemic total of 23.6 million viewers and numerous regular-season NFL games, notably the 26 million viewers a useless Bears-Lions game drew last Thanksgiving. Rival broadcast networks aggressively counterprogrammed the Oscars with fresh programming, if only to give viewers of those shows something to stream the next day, another indication the television ecosystem is shifting. Their ratings are not worth mentioning, believe you me.

There was history made this year to be sure: Ariana DeBose became the first lesbian of color to win an Academy Award for her portrayal of Anita in the remake of West Side Story – the same role that won an Oscar for Rita Moreno in 1961, became the first Latina woman to do so. Also making history was CODA becoming the first film to win Best Picture not widely distributed in theaters but on streamer Apple Plus. It remains to be seen however, if the movie-going public is really willing to forgo seeing films in a theater as we are easing into a post-pandemic world.

Another notable Oscar win was for Questlove for his documentary Summer of Soul, about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, and what it meant to Black America. And out of 27 Oscar nominations, Netflix won only one award, for Best Director in Power Of The Dog. 

But as we know, the biggest takeaway from the night was…

Chris Rock – about to present an Oscar for Best Documentary, made a joke about his wife appearing in “G.I. Jane 2”, a reference to Jada Pinkett Smith’s medical condition regarding her hair. In an unexpected moment, Smith came up on stage and smacked Rock across the face, shocking everyone in attendance and viewers at home around the world (many thought it was a skit – it clearly was not.) Audio from the incident was muted in the U.S. due to salty language (you know how that goes), but clips went viral – censored and uncensored – within minutes. This is the latest surreal incident in an awards show which in the past had a streaker, Rob Lowe dancing with Snow White, and a Best Picture mix-up.

In all, the Oscars were a weird and rather weak show, even with the surprise incident. The three host format – Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer, and Regina Hall actually were pretty good. But some parts of the show were questionable – celebrating Pulp Fiction on its 28th year of existence; an In Memoriam segment that became a little too upbeat; and the Covid-testing skit as nearly a million people have died from the virus in the U.S. Meanwhile, three alt-sports superstars (who?) introduced a segment commemorating the 60th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, which seemed out of place – not to mention an on-air card showing supporting for Ukraine instead of someone (like Mila Kunis) speaking those words, and despite eliminating several craft categories from the program, the Oscars ran 35 minutes over its allotted time. I’m certain this thrilled ABC affiliates, whose late news was pushed back.

Even worse, the audience applauded Smith after he won an Oscar for a night he helped tarnish. Perhaps the best analysis on why came from the man who hosted the 2013 Oscars as everything I wrote in this piece nine years ago still echo today given nothing has changed since. As I said back then, the host wasn’t the problem – Hollywood’s self-smugness and how the Academy runs things in an era of media consolidation is.

But at least the ratings went up, right?


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