Kentucky Derby Tramples Oscars & Almost Everything Else In Viewership; NBC Broadcast Up From 2020, Down From 2019

Right now, it really bites to be Essential Quality and the 93rd Academy Awards.

Things are gloomy for the former because the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Kentucky Derby finished fourth in Saturday’s 147th running. As for the latter, after crashing to an all-time viewership low of 10.4 million for its April 25 show, the Oscars are now being repeatedly trampled in comparison to events that previously barely nipped at the heels of Hollywood’s biggest night.

On April 29, it was the first day of the NFL Draft that topped the Oscars. Now, it’s Saturday’s Kentucky Derby on NBC that took the crown. As Medina Spirit won at a socially distanced Churchill Downs, the Comcast-owned network’s evening broadcast of the fabled race snagged an audience of 14.4 million.

In a year of declining and dead letter office awards shows and small screen viewing overall, the 2021 Kentucky Derby was up a stellar 53% in viewers compared with the 2020 Kentucky Derby. While no Super Bowl (96.4 million for the February 7 game, a multi-decade low), Saturday’s Derby was up 38% in sets of eyeballs from the Oscars and 15.2% from the ABC-ESPN- NFL Network airing of day one of the NFL Draft.

That’s an all-time first for the Derby to beat the Academy Awards, which usually are viewed by 20 million or more.

Compared with the drama deep and Country House winning 2019’s race, the 2021 Derby was down about 12% in viewers — kind of a sports average this year versus pre-pandemic results. In fact, the 2021 Kentucky Derby is pretty much on par with the 15 million that tuned for the race on May 5, 2018.

According to Nielsen, Saturday’s race peaked at 15.7 million from 6:45-7 PM ET as Medina Spirit sped to the end and to the winners circle. That win was the seventh for trainer Bob Baffert, a Kentucky Derby record.

Now, a bit of context. The 146th Kentucky Derby was held on September 5, 2020. Shifted from its traditional slot of the first Saturday in May because of the coronavirus pandemic, the 146th Derby also had no spectators. That’s a far cry from this year, when it was back in its old slot and had around 52,000 in attendance, most masked. Having said that, the Louisville-based Derby usually draws an in-person, well-dressed crowd of about 150,000 – so things were still a little different

With that, if some smart producer hasn’t optioned the rights to Baffert’s life, I suggest you send that email now. There’s always the 95th Oscars to consider, if you know what I mean?

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