Old favorite draws big, if older, audience to kudocast

The uptick in viewership for the Academy Awards this year can likely be traced to two factors: the rise of social media and the return of Billy Crystal.

Despite the lack of a blockbuster-film nominee to lure the masses, ABC’s Oscarcast drew an impressive audience of 39.3 million — up from last year’s 37.9 million and larger than the crowds for the 2008 or 2009 shows.

Little-seen films like “The Artist” and “Hugo” were the big winners Sunday, but the kudocast probably benefited from a concerted effort by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and ABC to make the show more relevant to younger viewers via the likes of Twitter and Facebook. So-called second-screen viewing (via smart phone, tablet or laptop) is nowprevalent during major live events like sports championships and awards shows and has contributed to ratings spikes.

Also, the return of Crystal — in his first Oscars host gig since 2004 — likely brought many viewers back to the show. Perhaps not surprisingly, that also meant an older skew.

While this year’s audience grew by about 1.4 million viewers, the rating in adults 18-49 (11.7) was a tick below last year and the second lowest on record (ahead of only the 10.7 rating of four years ago).

Crystal himself joked about the geriatric appeal of this year’s Oscars, suggesting during his hosting duties that the Kodak be renamed the Flomax Theater and that the show would “slam the 78-84 demo.”

Though huge numbers — the best for any ABC telecast since the 2010 Oscars — both Sunday’s demo score and overall viewership count lag this month’s Grammy Awards telecast on CBS (14.1 rating in 18-49, 39.9 million viewers overall). The last time the Grammys outdrew the Academy Awards was in 1984, when Michael Jackson moonwalked his way to a sweep of the top categories before a crowd of 43.8 million viewers, followed a month later by the Oscars, which drew 42.1 million for a telecast capped by “Terms of Endearment” winning named best picture.

The local markets with the highest ratings for the Academy Awards were New York (36.9 rating), Chicago (33.8), West Palm Beach (32.5) and Los Angeles and Boston (both with a 31.9). The lowest scores among Nielsen’s 56 metered markets were in Greensboro, N.C. (14.3), Memphis (15.0), Jacksonville, Fla., (15.6), Dayton, Ohio (16.4) and Greenville, S.C. (17.2).

ABC’s 90-minute “Oscar’s Red Carpet Live” pre-show grew with each half-hour, peaking from 8 to 8:30 p.m. ET with a 6.1 rating in 18-49 and 23.8 million viewers overall — down from last year. But “Jimmy Kimmel Live: After the Academy Awards” averaged 1.87 million adults 18-49 and 5.06 million viewers overall, up 8% and 14%, respectively, vs. last year in the best showing for the annual special.

ABC will repeat the Kimmel episode Thursday at 9.

The network also released numbers Monday for Oscar.com and Oscar App, which showed tremendous year-over-year growth.

The number of visitors to Oscar.com since the nomination announcement (10.2 million) surged 42% over 2011, and the Oscar App was downloaded 370,000 times — more than 12 times as many as last year. On Sunday alone, 4 million people visited Oscar.com or used an Oscar App.

On TV, this year’s Oscars did face more direct competition from high-profile original programming, but the biggest of them — the NBA All-Star Game on TNT and hot zombie drama “The Walking Dead” on AMC — figured to skew younger and much more male than the awards show so they didn’t cannibalize each other.

The basketball game, airing later in February than usual and opposite the Oscars for the first time, averaged a good 5.4 household rating in Nielsen’s metered markets, the second best since the 2005 exhibition did a 5.9.

On the broadcast side, CBS bagged the night’s top young-adult series score with “The Amazing Race” (2.1 rating/5 share in adults 18-49, 7.6 million viewers overall) from 8 to 9. And over the final two hours of primetime, NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” was top dog with a 1.8/4 in 18-49 and 5.0 million viewers overall. Both of these reality show contests were below their averages of the previous week’s premieres, but their respective nets saw them as decent counterprogramming and didn’t want to preempt them just one week after they bowed.

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