How many people watched last night’s Oscars telecast?
If host Seth MacFarlane is to be believed, a billion people — one-seventh of the world’s total population — tuned in.
MacFarlane is wrong. Hilariously wrong. Nowhere near a billion people watched the event. No single event in the history of television has been viewed by a billion people.
McFarlane isn’t the first to make such a ridiculous assertion, though. Indeed, he’s simply parroting what many others have been saying for years. As The New Yorker noted in a 2005 article, the “billion people” figure started getting tossed around a decade or so ago. It started to be repeated by those with influence in Hollywood circles and it gained credibility.
It only takes a few seconds of critical thinking to realize that the billion figure is complete bunk, however. The highest rated Oscars telecast in history was in 2004, when about 44 million Americans watched. Last night’s final figures aren’t in yet, but they’re expected to fall short of that figure.
So… 44 million Americans. We just need more than 950 million other people around the world in order to hit the billion mark.
Television ratings for the rest of the world are hard to come by — and, in many cases, non-existent — but it doesn’t take much digging to discover that the Oscars are pretty much only a big deal in the U.S. In many nations, it’s difficult to even find a telecast of the Oscars, as the show is often broadcast only on specialty cable and satellite channels.
In order to hit a billion viewers, you’d probably see a lot of China tuning in, as about one-seventh of the world’s population lives there. But you don’t. According to The New Yorker, only about about one percent of Chinese citizens (roughly 13 million people) watch.
In many other nations around the world, including much of South America and Africa, the Oscars are literally unheard of. This really shouldn’t shock anyone. The Oscars are always held in the U.S., usually honor American filmmakers and actors, and most other countries around the world have their own version of the awards. Why would anyone expect someone in Colombia or Kenya to care about American voters giving awards to U.S.-glorifying films like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty or Lincoln?
In a lot of ways, the “billion people” Oscars situation is akin to the Super Bowl champions calling themselves the “World Champions,” as they often do — they’re only the world champions insofar as no one outside of the U.S. even competes for the title.
So, how many people actually watch the Oscars around the globe? Assuming a bunch of Europeans tune in (even though the ceremony airs in the middle of the night over there), a more accurate figure is probably about 100 million and certainly not more than 200 million. Until a better system of tracking non-U.S. viewers emerges, we have no way of knowing for sure — and the Academy probably likes it that way.