An average of 38.8 million people watched the 3 1/2-hour Oscar telecast Sunday (March 5), according to preliminary Nielsen figures (final ratings will be out Tuesday). Nearly twice that many people -- 76.6 million -- watched at least a few minutes of the show, which saw "Crash" become a surprise best picture winner over pre-show favorite "Brokeback Mountain."
Those are hardly small numbers, but they don't stack up all that well against recent Oscarcasts. Last year, which like this featured no blockbusters among the best picture nominees the show averaged 42.1 million viewers; in 2004, 43.5 million tuned in as "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" swept the awards.
Sunday's show was only the second time since 1987 that the Oscars failed to reach 40 million viewers. The 2003 awards averaged only about 33 million, the lowest since Nielsen started tracking total viewers for the Oscars in 1974.
Ratings among adults 18-49, the demographic prized by advertisers, were also off from last year. This year's broadcast scored a 13.9 rating in the demo, down about 8 percent from last year's 15.1.
On the upside for ABC, ratings among men 18-34, a notoriously hard-to-reach group, were up about 5 percent over last year. Some of that may be attributable to host Jon Stewart, who as anchor of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central has a sizable following among young men.
The Oscars also rank as the most-watched entertainment program of the season, eclipsing the post-Super Bowl episode of "Grey's Anatomy," also on ABC.