The Last of Us Ratings: Can the HBO Series Finale Beat the Oscars?
The Mushroom Zombies are coming for the Oscars.
In a programming matchup that’s sure to be an agonizing choice for Sophie for many TV viewers — and could cause some excitement among film academy leaders — the finale of HBO’s post-apocalyptic hit series The Last of Us is slated for the same night as this year’s Academy Awards, March 12.
Yes, while HBO stepped aside out of respect for the Super Bowl this Sunday and pushed the upcoming fifth episode of “The Last of Us” to Friday, the network decided to go ahead and play chicken with the Oscars.
So what happens when you pit Hollywood’s biggest night against the climax of the year’s most talked-about show — aside from perhaps sparking some arguments over who gets control of the remote control? Which major television entertainment event will come out on top?
Let’s break down some numbers.
As everyone knows, Oscar ratings have been steadily declining for years as films have been pushed out of the center of the cultural conversation and the entertainment landscape has become more fragmented. Last year’s Oscars drew an average of 15.4 million viewers, a 56% increase from last year’s pandemic-dampened ratings disaster, but still the second-lowest viewership in the show’s history and well short of the more than 40 million viewers just nine years ago.
With a handful of true blockbusters in this year’s best visual mix, including Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar: The Way of Water and Elvis, Oscar insiders are hoping the show will attract more casual moviegoers who may not feel compelled to to see the show.
The Oscar ratings peak – 55.3 million viewers, reached in 1997 – came in a year dominated by James Cameron’s Titanic, then the biggest box office hit of all time. For the first time ever, this year’s Best Picture race includes two films that have grossed over $1 billion worldwide: Cameron’s Avatar sequel and Top Gun: Maverick.
Academy leaders who have attempted everything from proposing (and then scuttling) a “best popular film” award to launching a fan-voted award on Twitter to boost viewership for the Oscars may have reason to be optimistic to be.
While ratings for awards shows have generally trended down across the board, Sunday night’s Grammys averaged 12.4 million viewers, up 30% year-on-year, according to Nielsen, making it the most-watched Grammy program since 2020. Perhaps that’s a sign that awards shows could be recovering from their ratings lows.
If this year’s Oscars received a similarly big boost, they would draw about 20 million viewers. That would put it within striking distance of the pre-pandemic TV show of 2020, which saw 23.6 million viewers tune in to see “Parasite” win Best Picture.
As for The Last of Us, the series’ viewership has steadily grown since its debut as strong reviews – and a heartbreaking and much-discussed third installment – have expanded its audience far beyond fans of the original video game.
The series’ fourth episode on Sunday night drew 7.5 million viewers across linear shows and the HBO Max streaming platform, up 17% from episode 3 and a whopping 60% from the series debut in January, according to the network.
If The Last of Us continues to grow at this rate and, like so many Cordyceps-infected victims, gains new fans — and if the Oscars have a miserable night, it’ll once again flirt with the record-low 9.8 million viewers it hit 2021 – it could be interesting.
Realistically, however, The Last of Us probably won’t draw enough viewers to pose a real threat to the Oscars. The most-watched show in HBO history is the 2019 series finale of Game of Thrones, which drew 19.3 million viewers — a tally that took this series 9 years to build and one that surpassed The Last of Us” will most likely not reach in his early season.
While the Oscars can likely claim a ratings win tonight, with The Last of Us available for delayed viewing via HBO Max, the series finale’s total viewership could well surpass that of the Academy Awards. In its first few episodes, the show averaged more than 20 million viewers, including those who streamed it in the week following its airing. As long as it remains on a broadcast network, the Oscars have only one chance to capture every possible audience as a live event before quickly becoming yesterday’s news.
Ultimately, the fact that an awards show that once claimed to attract a billion viewers worldwide (perhaps with a bit of exaggeration) has to deal with even the competition of an all-cable series shows how dramatically the landscape has changed.
The zombies might not get them this year. But the Oscars aren’t out of the woods.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2023-02-06/the-last-of-us-hbo-ratings-oscars-grammys The Last of Us Ratings: Can the HBO Series Finale Beat the Oscars?