New York(CNN Business) Hollywood's biggest night was also its smallest night ever.
The 93rd Academy Awards tried to cover for a lost year in film with a boatload of intrigue: A change in venue that allowed for a maskless audience, a movie-style production led by director Steven Soderbergh, and a change in format with a surprise ending. None of that could save the Oscars from turning in the lowest rated telecast in the show's history — by a sizable margin.
The prestigious awards show drew an average of 9.8 million viewers for ABC on Sunday, according to early Nielsen numbers. That's 58% below the ratings from last year's show, the previous lowest-rated Oscars, which brought in in 23.6 million viewers.
The show remains one of the most-watched broadcast events, but its viewership represents a steep drop from what the show used to bring in. Just seven years ago, the Oscars nabbed more than 40 million viewers.
So why did the Oscars lose so much of its audience? For a myriad of reasons.
The Oscars may have also struggled since many of the films nominated for major awards weren't well known to general audiences. Hollywood held back many of its biggest films, hoping audiences would return to theaters later this year and in 2022. The Oscars are a kind of ad for going to the movies, and a lot of people haven't been able to do that in more than a year because of the pandemic.
As for the show itself, the reviews were decidedly mixed.
The show's choice to move Best Picture, the biggest prize of the night, from the last award to an earlier segment raised the most eyebrows. The consensus was that the show switched around the categories in hopes that Chadwick Boseman, the clear favorite for Best Actor who tragically passed away last year, would win. This would give the show and Boseman, who was nominated for his work in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," a huge emotional send-off.
Instead, the Oscars had an anticlimatic ending when the award went Anthony Hopkins for his performance in "The Father" instead. Hopkins wasn't even in attendance to accept the Oscar.
"Granted, the mere act of mounting these awards during the pandemic provided some cover for experimentation, while diminishing the customary pressure to maximize ratings," Brian Lowry, CNN's media critic, wrote in his review. "That's about the only reasonable explanation for shifting the traditional awards order and handing out best picture before the top acting categories, setting the stage for the night's awkward ending."
Although viewership dropped considerably, Lowry added, "It will be hard to separate the extent to which that was beyond the producers' control, as opposed to being at least partly due to a telecast that too often felt like a public television pledge drive."