Citing Nielsen's "fast national" figures, which are preliminary, ABC said the Oscars broadcast trumped other recent awards ceremonies, including the Emmys, the Golden Globes and the Grammy Awards. Even so, the viewership figure fell far short of the 40.2 million viewers who tuned in last year to see Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" win for Best Picture. And the total viewer turnout for the glitzy event was the lowest since 1974.
The Oscars is one of the most-watched -- and, for advertisers, most expensive -- programs on TV. ABC was seeking as much as $1.82 million for a 30-second spot this year, representing an approximately 7% increase over last year's top price of $1.7 million (prices vary depending upon the relationship a marketer has with the network and a host of other factors). The program also was being watched as a potential barometer of the health of broadcast TV, as it was the first big event to air on a traditional broadcast network since the resolution of the months-long writers strike.
The viewer tally of 32 million, however, was less than the approximately 33 million who tuned in to see "Chicago" win the top award in 2003.
Slate of films
Viewership for the Oscars broadcast usually rises and falls with the slate of films up for big honors each year. When small, independent films hold sway, the audience tends to dwindle. This year's big nominees included smaller films such as "Juno," "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men." When "Titanic," a big blockbuster, won Best Picture in 1998, about 55.2 million people tuned in, according to Nielsen; when "Crash" won in 2006, the number reached only about 38.9 million.
The smaller Oscars audience stands in marked contrast to the viewership for this year's Super Bowl, which aired on News Corp.'s Fox. An average of 97.5 million people tuned in to see a barn burner of a game between the then-undefeated New England Patriots and the upstart victor, the New York Giants. The figure made this year's Super Bowl the most-watched version of the contest in terms of total viewers.
The Oscars telecast attracted many blue-chip advertisers, including American Express, Unilever, Coca-Cola and General Motors Corp. The lower ratings come just as networks, media buyers and advertisers are beginning to contemplate the annual "upfront" marketplace, when marketers commit usually commit more than $9 billion for advertising during the networks' prime-time schedule. This year promises tougher going, as the writers strike has helped accelerate ratings erosion for broadcast TV and crimped the networks' ability to develop new shows for the fall.