Ratings for N.Y. were lower due to Cablevision battle

More nominees — including one that happened to be the biggest B.O. draw of all time — meant more viewers for the Academy Awards.

It actually may not be quite that simple, but the expansion of best-picture hopefuls from five to 10 is likely accountable for this year’s surge to a five-year ratings high. The Oscars telecast on Sunday moved back above the 40 million-viewer mark for just the second time in five years, growing for a second straight year following the show’s ratings valley in 2008.

Other factors may have been at work, too, including an economy that has contributed to more moviegoing. Auds also seem to be gathering around the television set more these days for big events.

The improved Oscar ratings continue a strong season for event television. Not only did last month’s Super Bowl deliver the largest audience for any program on record (106.5 million), but the Grammy Awards hit a six-year high (25.9 million), the American Music Awards drew its largest aud in seven years (14.2 million), and the CMAs and Golden Globes were up as well.

Many believe the inclusion of some popular pics such as “Avatar” — the all-time leader in North America box office receipts — and some that that might not have otherwise been nommed, including “District 9″ and “Up,” were part of the Oscar conversation.

The Academy also made a concerted effort to boost interest among the fickle under-35 crowd by including young presenters like Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron and Taylor Lautner. At the same time, other auds may have been drawn to the more veteran hosting duo of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.

Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science and one of the main proponents of the larger best-pic field, said he was pleased with the show and its ratings.

“I thought there were definitely more positives than negatives (in expanding the field), but you can’t figure out whether it’s right or wrong in just one year,” Sherak said. “The Academy gave us such a wide variety of movies, and that helps draw in wider audiences.

“If you believe that movies work because they’re good and generate word-of-mouth, trying to create more of a conversation (with 10 nominees) is a good thing.”

Looking at the numbers, Nielsen estimates that an average aud of 41.3 million watched the “82nd Annual Academy Awards” telecast on ABC — up 14% from last year (36.3 million) and 23% from 2008, when the show drew just 32 million. It’s also the largest tune-in for entertainment’s biggest night since 42.1 million watched the 2005 show; the largest crowd since the “Titanic” year of 1998 came in 2000 when “American Beauty” captured the top prize before an average audience of 46.3 million.

In adults 18-49, this year’s preliminary 13.1 rating is an 8% improvement over last year and the best in three years.

In both demos and total viewers, the Oscars stand as the season’s top-rated non-NFL telecast.

Local-market ratings for New York were lower than last year (roughly 29% of homes watching vs. 31%) — but still above the national average — due to a bitter battle between ABC flagship station WABC and Cablevision that kept the kudocast off the screens in roughly 3 million homes until about 8:44 p.m. Even when the channel emerged from darkness, it likely took many viewers time to discover that the Oscars were indeed on the air.

Whereas Gotham represented the best overnight score a year ago, this year it belonged to Chicago (37.6 rating), followed by West Palm Beach (33.3), Boston (33.2), Kansas City (32.8) and San Francisco (31.8). In Los Angeles, the show pulled a 29.6 rating, up from last year’s 28.1.

The length of the kudocast continues to be a cause for concern, with the 3½-hour festivities not wrapping until about midnight ET. With the annual “Barbara Walters Oscar Special” (which preceded the Oscars in most of the country) concluding its run this year, the Academy may want to consider shifting the starting time earlier by at least half an hour.

Sherak said it’s too early to make any calls regarding that, but admits that under most circumstances, shorter would be better.

“I’d love to have a three-hour show, but more important is giving them (viewers) a night that they’ll remember,” Sherak said. “Getting a show in at two hours and 58 minutes that doesn’t include the stuff everybody loves isn’t the answer.”

Elsewhere Sunday on ABC, the final “Barbara Walters Special” (airing from 7 to 8 p.m. in most of the country) averaged 15 million viewers, up from last year’s 11.6 million for its largest aud in eight years. And from 8 to 8:30 p.m. the “Oscar’s Red Carpet” pre-show pulled in 25.1 million, the largest aud for the spec in three years.

In latenight, “Jimmy Kimmel Live: After the Academy Awards” drew the show’s largest aud in four years; and among all “JKL” episodes to date, it lags only the two segs that aired after ABC’s coverage of the Super Bowl.

At E!, the 6-8 p.m. ET “Live From the Red Carpet” spec drew 3.5 million viewers, up 5% from last year and the best since 2007.

Related:
Complete list of winners
TV review: 82nd annual Academy Awards
‘Hurt Locker’ wins big at Oscars
Bigelow first woman to win director Oscar
Oscars draw 41 million viewers

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