The Associated Press
Preliminary television ratings for the wartime Academy Awards were down 15 percent from last year, and it could wind up the least popular Oscar telecast ever, ABC said Monday.
The Oscars drew a 25.5 household rating and 37 audience share in Nielsen Media Research's overnight measure of the 55 biggest cities. The ratings were likely to drop upon release of final national numbers since the Oscars are more popular in cities.
The Oscars toned down the glitz Sunday night at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood because of the war with Iraq, and going into the weekend, there had been some question whether the ceremony would be held. That took its toll, said Larry Hyams, ABC's chief researcher.
"It was such a special instance, it's hard to speculate what it was beyond the war coverage," Hyams said Monday. He noted that viewership has been sharply up for cable news networks covering the war full-time.
Based on the preliminary numbers, ABC estimated that 37 million people watched the telecast.
Viewership has been that low only twice since 1974, when records were first available. There were 37.2 million viewers in 1987, when Platoon was best picture, and 37.8 million in 1986, with Out of Africa.
A ratings point represents 1,067,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 106.7 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.
An estimated 41.8 million people watched A Beautiful Mind win best picture in 2002. Oscar's record was 55.2 million viewers in 1998, when Titanic won.
"Obviously the extraneous factors had an impact," Hyams said, "but it's still going to be one of the highest-rated, if not the highest-rated, entertainment shows of the year."
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