Despite calls for a boycott from some of the biggest African-American film stars and a nationwide "TV Tune Out" organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the 2016 Oscars did not see a significant decrease in African-American viewers from 2015.
According to data from Nielsen, the Oscars telecast on Sunday on ABC averaged 3,221,000 African-American viewers, down only slightly from the 2015 Academy Awards, which averaged 3,293,000. Perhaps it was the draw of host Chris Rock's highly anticipated opening monologue, or just the buzz generated by almost two months of #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but the African-American audience dropped by only 2 percent in the face of calls to change the channel.
The number of African-American viewers in 2016 was still at its lowest since 2012, when 2,962,000 of them tuned in, but it was still higher than not just that year, but also the 2,485,000 black viewers who watched in 2011. That year, there were also no people of color nominated in all four acting categories.
Overall, the ratings for the Oscars were down this year as part of a continued decline. The total viewership for Sunday's telecast was 34.3 million, low enough to qualify as the third-lowest-rated Oscars broadcast in history and down from last year's 36.6 million.
Sharpton had previously credited his nationwide "TV Tune Out" as a major contributing factor to the low ratings.
"The early reports of a decline in the Oscar viewership is heartening to those of us that campaigned around asking citizens to tune out," said the civil rights leader in a press release Monday. "This is a significant decline and should send a message to the Academy and to movie studio heads. Though clearly we don’t take full credit for the decline, certainly one would have to assume we were effective and part of the decline. And to those that mocked the idea of a tune out, it seems the joke was on them."