President, Oscars Draw More Viewers This Year Than Last

What Everyone Is Talking About

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NEW YORK ( -- Last week TV proved it can still draw the eyeballs.

On Feb. 22, 36.3 million people tuned in to watch Hugh Jackman singing and dancing his way through ABC's telecast of the Academy Awards. The awards show was up 13% in average total viewers vs. last year's show.

Hugh Jackman: The host sang and danced for 36.3 million TV viewers.
Hugh Jackman: The host sang and danced for 36.3 million TV viewers. Credit: A.M.P.A.S.
Two days later, 52 million people watched President Barack Obama across 10 different national networks as he gave his first address to a joint session of Congress, an increase of nearly 40% over the 37.5 million for President George W. Bush's last State of the Union speech, in 2008.

While those behind the Academy Awards hope the show ultimately leads to movie-ticket sales, Mr. Obama hoped his address would sell his economic reforms to the nation. At this point, it's hard to see whether either of the big audiences will help Hollywood or D.C. with their goals.

Even though viewership was up this year for the Oscars, Jackman's turn as emcee still ranks as its third-lowest-rated broadcast. (Last year, the Awards had its worst ratings performance, with 32.09 million. The awards telecast in 2003, when "Chicago" won best picture, was watched by only 33 million.)

This year, the producers of the show tried to freshen up the format by recreating the stage of the Kodak Theater to resemble a glamorous supper club, and encouraged Jackman to reach right into the front rows to talk with the nominees. Hollywood executives are always complaining that the Best Picture nominees never seem to honor those films that bring in the most money: action and superhero thrillers and comedies. So this year, the Oscars built in "tributes" to both as a way to appease the suits, and the end of the show included a promo for just about every movie for the rest of the year. Critics were mixed on the result, with some thoroughly behind the musical numbers and innovation of five presenters for each acting award, while others felt the show format was beyond redemption.

Obama, meanwhile, found himself equally lauded and criticized for his performance. But his critics seemed to break down much more cleanly along party lines.

Ultimately, TV is a great platform, but how effective it is all depends on how you use it. Just ask Bobby Jindal.

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