The 80th anniversary edition of the Academy Awards, dominated by European stars and films that played poorly at the box office, averaged 32 million viewers, entering the record books on Monday as the least watched Oscar telecast ever.
The national viewer tally reported by Nielsen Media Research for ABCs live, three-hour-plus telecast on Sunday was down about 1 million viewers from the previous record low, set in 2003 when the Oscars were presented just after the US led invasion of Iraq had begun.
The 2003 program was hosted by Steve Martin and featured the musical Chicago as best picture. Sundays broadcast, with comedian Jon Stewart making his second appearance as Oscar host, now ranks as the smallest US television audience for the Oscars since 1974, when actual viewer totals first became available.
The household rating, 18.7, also marks the lowest level by that measure going back to the first televised Oscars in 1953. By contrast, the most watched Oscar broadcast on record was the 1998 show, when the box-office blockbuster Titanic sailed off with a record-tying 11 awards, including the prize for best picture. Some 55 million Americans tuned in that year.
Even that figure pales in comparison to the audience that tunes in annually to the National Football League championship Super Bowl game, which this year drew 97.5 million viewers.
American Idol, the most popular U.S. series, averages 30 million viewers a week with its Tuesday night broadcast. It debuted this season with 33.5 million.
The weak ratings for Sundays Oscar broadcast came as no surprise given that many movies showcased this year There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,generated little enthusiasm among moviegoers despite critical raves.
The nights big winner, the grim, violent crime drama No Country For Old Men, which claimed four awards including best picture and best drama, grossed a modest $64 million at the North American box office.