Chris Rock's provocative turn as host of the 88th Academy Awards was lauded for the bold way he took on the lack of diversity in the film industry.
But Sunday's buzz-worthy ceremony on ABC — where the drama "Spotlight" was the winner for best picture — still faced the head winds now common to TV award shows.
Preliminary ratings from Nielsen showed the Oscars averaged 34.3 million viewers, a decline of 6% from comparable 2015 data.
The final audience total, to be issued Tuesday, is on track to be the lowest-rated Oscars telecast since 2008. That year's ceremony, hosted by Jon Stewart, was watched by 32 million viewers, an all-time low for the Academy Awards. The best picture award went to "No Country for Old Men," another film that attracted little business at the box office.
Ratings for the Oscars have generally been on the decline since the last time Rock hosted the program in 2005. Increased program choices provided by online streaming services and a crowded televised awards season (the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards precede the Oscars) are the main culprits.
Then there are the movies. Based on Oscar ratings history, a lack of major blockbuster box-office hits among the best picture nominees did not help. While "The Revenant," "The Martian" and "Mad Max: Fury Road" were popular with moviegoers, other nominees, including "Spotlight" and "Room," weren't widely seen by American audiences, a fact that provided comic material for Rock.
"Brooklyn," now in its 17th week, has grossed $36.5 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada, while A24's "Room" has pulled in just $13.54 million at the box office as of last weekend, ComScore said.
Less clear is the impact of the prolonged public debate sparked by the lack of a non-white nominee in any of the acting categories for the second straight year.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who led a Sunday rally against the Oscars to protest its lack of recognition for people of color, believed the boycott discussion had some effect.
"This is a significant decline and should send a message to the Academy and to movie studio heads," he said in a statement. "Though clearly we don't take full credit for the decline, certainly one would have to assume we were effective and part of the decline. And to those that mocked the idea of a tune-out, it seems the joke was on them."