Oscars ratings are down, and ABC's lack of control over the Academy may be to blame

The Oscars telecast has transformed into a four-hour debacle --complete with low ratings, long runtimes and political jabs -- and critics are now wondering if ABC will have an awakening and take control of the telecast away from the notoriously arrogant Academy.

The politically charged 2018 Academy Awards were down 20 percent in the ratings compared to the 2017 numbers, averaging 26.5 million viewers.

ABC and the Academy have partnered on the event more than 50 times, but the network historically takes a back seat to the Academy when it comes to calling the shots, insiders say.

ABC executives have long been rumored to vent privately about the arrogance of the Academy, but the Oscars are still the second biggest night on television after the Super Bowl, so the Academy continues to celebrate Hollywood's elite exactly how it wants to. 

Sources tell Fox News that the Academy has been traditionally unyielding and insists on televising several awards -- such as production design and documentary short -- that viewers find boring and lengthen the show. Insiders also say the Academy refuses to reduce the number of tributes to old Hollywood, though those tributes rarely resonate with fans. 

Variety Co-Editor in Chief Andrew Wallenstein tweeted after the ratings were released, “How low does the final ratings number have to be in order to prompt the Academy and ABC to freak out? Where is the bar set at which some serious changes will be made to the telecast format in order to reinvigorate the franchise?”

Viewers tend to complain about the Oscars for a variety of reasons, ranging from self-serving tributes to the yearly tradition of leaving fan favorites out of the “In Memoriam” segment. This year, for example, Adam West and Glen Campbell were posthumously snubbed. Others feel the telecast ends too late, takes too long, is too politically correct and doesn’t feature TV stars in an era when television produces household names at the same rate as films. 

Sources say the Academy deliberately insists on commemorating only those they want to memorialize regardless of who fans are interested in, often skipping stars whose primary contributions were to TV rather than film.

90th Academy Awards - Oscars Show – Hollywood, California, U.S., 04/03/2018 – Host Jimmy Kimmel opens the show. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - HP1EE350310T0

The Academy has budged a bit in recent years -- increasing the number of films nominated for Best Picture so there was a bigger chance that blockbusters would be included. They’ve also been under enormous pressure regarding diversity after the #OscarsSoWhite movement. Black actors, writers and directors were nominated in multiple categories this year, but critics have pointed out other groups – such as women – are still underrepresented.

Despite all this, the two issues that are most commonly mentioned as a turn off for viewers are divisive politics and the lack of well-known movies.

Host Jimmy Kimmel and other Hollywood elitists who took the stage focused on diversity, feminism and political issues as much as they focused on the films being honored. While the Academy has a lot of power over the content of the program as its producer, ABC is also responsible for much of the blame.

Insiders say that ABC lobbied for Kimmel to host for years, and the Academy finally agreed prior to last year’s show. The result has been back-to-back debacles.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro told Fox News that ratings are down because Hollywood spits “in the eye of the common American,” pointing to a divide between movies that win awards compared to movies that people actually want to see.

“They haven’t had a picture since 2004 that’s won Best Picture and was in the Top 10 at the box office,” Shapiro said Tuesday on “Fox & Friends.”

Shapiro also said the broadcast should be shortened, but that’s not the reason why he didn’t tune in on Sunday evening.

“I was not interested in watching all these people who are sexually harassing and raping each other to lecture the rest of America on why our morality is deficient,” he said.

TheWrap senior television editor Tony Maglio has made a career of analyzing ratings. He called the drop in viewers a “disaster for the Disney-owned broadcaster, show producers, and those who ponied up millions to buy ad time.”

Maglio pointed out that “live TV ratings have been steadily declining overall” and noted that the Oscars have seen a drop in viewership for several consecutive years.

Maglio echoed Shapiro’s criticism of the movies selected to win awards conflicting with films that people enjoy and even agreed that politics play a role.

“Any strong political statement has the potential to alienate audiences,” Maglio wrote.

Critics point to the Golden Globes on NBC as an awards show that’s far better produced for television with more stars, more awards that viewers care about, alcohol being served and TV awards being handed out. 

ABC did not respond when asked if the network would attempt to wrangle more control from the Academy as a result of the dismal ratings. The network also didn’t respond when asked if changes would be made in general.

ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agreed to a new contract in 2016 that would keep the event billed as “Hollywood’s biggest entertainment ceremony of the year” on the network through 2028.

Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.