Can Seth MacFarlane Really Bring Young Viewers to ABC's Oscars?

Viewpoint: Audience That Watches MacFarlane Shows on Fox Least Likely to Watch Academy Awards

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This Sunday, ABC televises the 85th annual Academy Awards. The telecast is expected to average about 40 million viewers and will probably be the most-watched program of the year that is not an NFL post-season game. Unlike pro football, more than 60% of the Oscars viewer profile is female, the Oscars have, at times, been incorrectly referred to as the "Super Bowl for Women". Another trend has been the award show's rising median age. For seven of the past eight years the median age of the viewer has increased. In 2012 it reached a high of 52.8 (compared to 39.9 20 years ago).

Concerned about a graying audience, the 2011 Oscars telecast used two young actors, Anne Hathaway and James Franco, as co-hosts. Their performance was largely panned by critics and viewers. The younger hosts didn't help bring younger viewers either as the median age of the telecast even increased. Last year after Eddie Murphy dropped out, the 63-year-old Billy Crystal hosted the Oscars for the ninth time (and first since 2004). This year after ABC balked at Jimmy Fallon of NBC hosting the awards show, Seth MacFarlane was named.

Although Mr. MacFarlane has spent less time in front of the camera compared with previous Oscar hosts, he is well known, especially with young males. Mr. MacFarlane is the creative force behind three animated series on Fox: "Family Guy," "American Dad" and "The Cleveland Show." With median ages of below 32 this season, all three shows have among the youngest audience profiles on broadcast TV. Males account for more than 60% of the audience for all three shows. In other words, the audience that watches Seth MacFarlane's shows on Fox are among the least likely to watch the Academy Awards.

Seth MacFarlane
Seth MacFarlane

Mr. MacFarlane was also the writer, director and co-star of "Ted." Released in June, the movie earned $535 million in ticket sales globally, making it the highest-grossing R-rated original film comedy ever. Domestically, "Ted" earned $218 million, ranking ninth for the year. Mr. MacFarlane is even nominated for an Oscar for Best Song as co-writer of "Ted's" original song, "Everybody Needs a Friend." It is the only Oscar nomination the film has earned.

Domestic box-office receipts reached $10.8 billion in 2012, an all-time high, and movie attendance increased for the first time in three years, which may help the Oscars telecast -- just not with younger viewers. According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the frequent moviegoer, those that average one or more movies per month in 2011 (the last full year available), are in the 25-39 age group, especially males. This is the same demographic that is more likely to watch Seth MacFarlane shows on Fox and least likely to watch the Academy Awards.

A look at the top-grossing movies in 2012, many of them popular with young adults, indicates that very few of them received any Oscar recognition and none of them were nominated in major categories. For example, "The Avengers," the top-grossing of 2012 (and third-highest of all-time), has one nomination in the Visual Effect category. Other top-grossing films of 2012 were ignored entirely by the Academy, including "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Hunger Games," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2." Among the 10 highest-grossing films of 2012, only "Skyfall," with five, and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," at three, had more than one nomination from the Academy.

The films with the most Oscar nominations are not as popular with young adults -- just one reason the award show has an aging audience profile. What's more, there is a glut of movie-award shows and the nominating committee seems to select films that appeal less to Mr. MacFarlane's fans. Although Mr. MacFarlane is popular with young males, they will likely not tune in this Sunday night -- opting, perhaps, to watch the Sunday-night favorites he created.

Brad Adgate is senior VP-research for Horizon Media.
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