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Oscar ratings sink with Rock
First the Golden Globes. Then the Grammys. Now the Oscars. Can awards shows be saved?
February 28, 2005: 5:22 PM EST
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Hollywood is now 0-3 in the world of major league awards shows.

Following in the footsteps of both The Golden Globes and Grammy Awards, ratings for Sunday night's 77th Annual Academy Awards were down this year.

Some 41.5 million viewers on average watched ABC's Oscar telecast this year, a 5 percent drop from 2004, according to Nielsen Media Research. The sweep by "Million Dollar Baby," the Clint Eastwood boxing flick that won four of the top six awards, drew a 25.2 rating and a 38 share, according to figures released Monday afternoon by ABC.

A rating represents the percentage of total U.S. television households. A share represents the percentage of homes with their televisions on at the time.

The numbers, released Monday afternoon, are lower than the preliminary returns widely reported earlier in the day. Monday morning ABC, which is owned by Walt Disney (Research), said ratings from the top U.S. markets showed a 30.1 rating and a 43 share.

Nielsen ratings can fluctuate until they are finalized. The data that ABC released Monday afternoon, while not official until Tuesday, are a lot closer to the mark than the earlier results.

While Oscar ratings for the last two years are higher than they were in 2003 -- when 33 million viewers tuned in to see "Chicago" shimmy its way to a best picture statue -- viewer levels over time show that Oscar is slowly losing his Midas touch.

Academy Award viewership has been sliding since 1998, when the blowout success of "Titanic" helped draw 55 million watchers, according to Nielsen. That year, in which "Titanic" hauled in 11 Oscars, marked the ceremony's best showing since 1983.

A Rock doesn't roll

Oscar producers had high hopes that the comedian Chris Rock would, as the Oscar host, have a broad enough appeal to boost ratings. Based on the results, "I don't think (veteran Oscar hosts) Billy Crystal and Steve Martin have anything to fear," said Brad Adgate, the senior vice president of corporate research at Horizon Media, a New York marketing firm.

Still, Adgate noted that Rock didn't exactly flop. The Academy Awards is still one of the highest-rated network shows of the year -- and that, said Adgate, is likely to remain the case for a long time. Advertisers, who shelled out an average $1.6 million per 30-second spot this year, are still willing to pay top dollar despite the gradual ratings decline.

"I think (bringing in a fresh face like Rock) was worth the risk," said Adgate.

But there's cause for some concern among network executives. Both the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards' chief rival, and The Grammys, its musical counterpart, are losing viewers. So too are The Emmys, the television industry's main back-slapping event of the year.

In January, 16.8 million television watchers on average tuned in to the Golden Globes, or about 40 percent fewer than the year before. The Grammys earlier this month posted its worst showing in a decade. An estimated 18.8 million, or 28 percent less, tuned in to what is considered the world series of the music industry.

Meanwhile, last fall The Emmys scored its smallest audience since 1990.

Jack Myers, an independent media analyst and publisher of Jack Myers Report, attributes viewer apathy to both Hollywood's dearth of blockbuster hits as well as the absence of any big-name draws at the actual awards ceremonies.

"It used to be that Madonna or Michael Jackson was going to be on the music award show or Barbra Streisand was going to sing at the Academy Awards," said Myers. "Those (entertainers) are going to draw huge numbers."

But Myers noted too that declining ratings for awards shows are part of a broader falloff in network audiences. "Everything is suffering, not just the awards shows, from a slow erosion over time," said Myers.

Given the myriad forms of entertainment now available to consumers, "the excitement of these big events in general is diminished," said Myers. "There's just so much out there."

Still, like Adgate of Horizon Media, Myers thinks the Oscars remain a good bet for advertisers. Sunday night's 14.9 rating among the 18-49 demographic that advertisers covet most, while lower than last year, "is excellent," he said.  Top of page

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