Oscarcast gets meek aud marks

Bad numbers despite brevity, strong buzz for Martin

HOLLYWOOD — Oscar proved to be no gladiator in the ratings arena, as ABC’s telecast of Hollywood’s big night drew some of the kudocast’s meekest marks ever.

Despite a shorter telecast, which helped maximize ratings, and strong buzz and reviews for first-time host Steve Martin, the Academy Awards on March 25 fell to its lowest household rating (26.2) and share (40) on record, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In total viewers, a category that favors recent years because of population increases, this year’s average crowd of 42.9 million is the lowest in 10 years.

Ratings for this year’s telecast are down vs. last year by 10% in households (26.2 vs. 29.2) and by 7% in total viewers (42.9 million vs. 46.3 million).

Show held up better competitively in the key demo of adults 18-49, with this year’s 17.8 rating (down 7% vs. last year) ahead of 1997 (16.4) and merely the fourth lowest in 15 years.

Last year, a record-long telecast (four hours, eight minutes) produced solid ratings, but viewers bailed in the closing hour of a show that didn’t wrap until after 12:30 a.m. in the East.

This relative brevity of year’s ceremony — which at three hours, 25 minutes was one of the shortest in years — didn’t help ratings, but it’s safe to say that this year’s overall numbers would have been even lower if the show had been extended any longer.

It’s certainly no disgrace to fall to record lows in households, as a multitude of viewing options these days makes it tough for any program to dominate as in past years. Other annual events like the World Series and the Miss America pageant have seen gradual erosion throughout the years, as have long-running series like “60 Minutes” and “Monday Night Football.”


One of the theories that crops up about the decline in Oscar ratings is that the biggest kudocast of them all comes on the heels of so many others. Two months before Julia Roberts ascended the stage to accept her first Academy Award, for example, 22 million viewers had seen her gushing speech at the Golden Globes.

Another theory goes that the biggest Academy Awards ratings come for the biggest of movies. In 1997, the arty “The English Patient” was the big winner, but drew the smallest Oscarcast audience ever. However, one year later, “Titanic” — the highest-grossing film of all time — was the runaway winner and attracted the show’s biggest crowd ever.

Other Oscarcast tidbits:

  • In an upset, Los Angeles did not generate the highest rating among Nielsen’s 49 metered markets, as the host city’s 36.7 (down 14% from last year’s 42.7) placed second to San Francisco’s 39.0.

  • The 42.9 million viewers who watched an average minute of the telecast makes it ABC’s most-viewed program since last year’s Oscars. Since then, only three shows on television (all on CBS) have averaged larger crowds: January’s Super Bowl (84.33 million), last August’s “Survivor” finale (51.69 million) and January’s post-Super Bowl premiere of “Survivor: The Australian Outback” (45.37 million).

  • The Oscars continue to appeal to a broad audience, but Fox certainly exposed an Achilles heel this year. While the kudocast finished No. 1 for the week in virtually every demo, it was only the 12th most popular choice for male teens. Fox counter-programmed well with a repeat of Arnold Schwarzenegger in “True Lies,” which did especially well with this group.
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