Gauging Oscar ratings

Numbers drop, but ABC claims victory

March 01, 2005|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Even though Sunday's Oscar telecast was watched by more viewers than any other entertainment show of the year, it didn't draw enough of an audience to halt the overall ratings skid for TV awards shows.

The 77th annual Academy Awards were watched by an average audience of 41.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. And while that dwarfed the 18.8 million for the Grammys and 16.8 million for the Golden Globes, it was down from the 43.5 million who tuned in for last year's Oscar telecast. (In 2003, the Oscars drew only 33 million.)

Nevertheless, ABC was declaring victory yesterday, pointing out that host Chris Rock accomplished the network's primary mission of attracting more young viewers to the revamped telecast. The show earned its highest rating in three years among adults ages 18 to 34, women 18 to 34 and women 18 to 49.

"Obviously, Chris Rock as host had an impact on the resurgence of the numbers," Larry Hyams, vice president of audience research and analysis at ABC, said yesterday of the host who had relentlessly promoted the telecast in recent weeks.

The news for the Oscars was much better in Baltimore, where Sunday's audience was up 16 percent over 2004 and 30 percent over 2003. The audience in Baltimore totaled 303,468 households - or 28 percent of all homes with television. (Local overnight ratings measure only households - not viewers.)

"I think the quality of the show was better," said Drew Berry, general manager of WMAR (Channel 2), Baltimore's ABC affiliate. "But I also think anticipation of what the weather was going to be on Monday also contributed to the tune-in during the night."

Overall, the telecast did much better in large urban markets than in smaller cities. In the overnight ratings for the nation's 56 largest markets, the show drew the highest Oscar ratings in five years.

While the audience for Oscar telecasts had been in decline since 1998, the increase of 10.5 million viewers from 2003 to 2004 was overlooked in many of the pre-Oscar stories that confused the huge losses of audience for the Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe and People's Choice awards with recent Oscar history.

Still, executives from ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were worried about becoming part of the downward trend. Their concerns focused on the need to use a five-second delay in the wake of Janet Jackson's breast-baring performance at the 2004 Super Bowl. The belief was that such delays were robbing telecasts of the excitement they once had as live TV.

The total number of viewers who tuned in to at least part of Sunday night's telecast was 69.94 million, according to Nielsen.

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