Sunday’s Oscarcast proved no gladiator in the ratings arena, as ABC’s telecast delivered some of the awards show’s meekest marks ever.

Despite a quicker telecast that would figure to maximize ratings, as well as strong buzz and reviews for first-time host Steve Martin, the Academy Awards fell to its lowest household rating (26.2) and share (40) on record, according to preliminary nationals from Nielsen that are considered highly reliable. In total viewers, a category that favors recent years because of population increases, this year’s average crowd of 42.9 million is the second lowest in 10 years — ahead of only 1997 (40.1 million).

Ratings for this year’s telecast, which saw “Gladiator” walk away with the top prize, 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). In the key demo of adults 18-49, this year’s projected 17.8 rating (down 7% vs. last year) is ahead of 1997 (16.4) and the fourth lowest in 15 years.

Oscar’s best demo story came in men 18-34, where this year’s 14.1 is 6% better than 2000 and the sixth best in 15 years.

Last year, a record-length telecast (4 hours, 8 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. The swiftness of this year’s ceremony, though — which at 3 hours, 25 minutes, was one of the quickest in years — didn’t seem to help.

San Francisco treat

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.

ABC estimates 72.2 million people in the U.S. watched at least some of this year’s ceremony.

The 42.9 million viewers who watched an average minute of the telecast makes it ABC’s most-watched 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 (51.69m) and January’s post-Super Bowl premiere of “Survivor: The Australian Outback” (45.37m).

The 17.8 rating in adults 18-49 similarly ranks fourth since last year’s Oscarcast, behind the Super Bowl (35.8), the “Survivor” finale (22.8) and the “Survivor II” premiere (21.8).

Fox counters well

The Alphabet net was an easy winner on the night, of course, but second-place Fox saw its fortunes improve dramatically vs. a year ago by going with a repeat of “True Lies” (prelim 13.1 million, 6.1/14 in A18-49). Pic’s 18-49 rating is the second best for any theatrical this season, behind only November’s broadcast premiere of “Titanic” on NBC (6.9/15).

CBS also was up vs. a year ago thanks to a 30-minute NCAA basketball overrun (Arizona-Illinois), but NBC was down with an NBA game and a repeat of a “Homicide” movie.

Earlier Sunday, NBC drew the best overnights in 10 years for its coverage of golf’s Players Championship. In fact, for its final two hours (4:45-6:45 p.m. EST), golf topped CBS’ NCAA basketball game (7.4/15 to 6.9/14).

CBS still is generating solid numbers for the basketball tourney, though, with Sunday’s late Arizona-Illinois game improving vs. last year by 18% in overnights (8.5/16 vs. 5.9/13). Overall, this year’s tournament is about on par with a year ago in households and total viewers but up by double-digit percentages in key male demos.