Certainly the show was better than in the last decade, but as someone commented below… the movies nominated largely had small fan bases and Hugh Jackman, though very talented, also has a smallish fan base. To get the extra 5-10 million viewers above the base of 30 million it really does appear that the fan base size of the nominated pitches matters – biggest years feature some of the biggest movies (and movie stars) or all time – See Titantic, Forest Gump, Ghandi, Braveheart. Recession and raging wars seem to dampen viewership – see 1968, 69, 86,87, 2003. (in 2003 it was held in march and competed with first Operation Iraqi Freedom mission and March Madness basketball).
All that said, the households tuning into the Oscars is largely unchanged in 50 years. Some 21 million plus homes watch it every year. Only in the year of Titanic, the most popular box office film ever, was the telecast audience significantly changed. The issue of Oscar ratings comes down to the expectation of growth. I can’t find a telecast, other than the SuperBowl, maintaining this size of an audience for so long. Perhaps an interesting question might be why we expect the Oscar audience to grow when the movie going audience hasn’t really grown and the Internet’s dominance in celebrity has (see below).
It’s about 2 hours to showtime.
The ratings will be down again, despite efforts to liven up the show. The ratings troubles have nothing to do with the show nor do they even reflect the public overall interest in the Oscars.
Somewhat related to my post yesterday, the Internet is destroying any media franchise that draws audience primarily on gossip, pics of celebrity and “results”. The Internet provides all of that better than TV does (like Time’s live blog), without the 4 hours of TV commitment and annoying commercials.
Yes, of course, competing media, the recession and general lack of Oscar marketing isn’t helping the ratings.