February 25, 2008–Preliminary Nielsen estimates show this year's Oscar telecast 20% below last year's. Demographic data and total-viewer estimates won't be issued by Nielsen until this afternoon, but Sunday's telecast on ABC had a 21.9 household rating/33 share in the 56 metered-markets monitored by Nielsen, down sharply from last year's 27.7/42, which translated into 40 million viewers.
The 21.9 rating is also considerably below the 25.5 rating earned by the 2003 Academy Awards telecast, which set the low-water mark for viewership when it averaged just over 33 million viewers.
After starting slowly with a 20.1 rating in the opening half-hour, the Oscars peaked with a 22.7 rating in the 10 o'clock half-hour on Sunday.
The top five highest-rated markets were New York (30.6 rating/44 share), Chicago (29.1/43), San Francisco (27.2/47), West Palm (26.1/39) and Los Angeles (25.6/41). A year ago, New York generated a 35.3 rating, and Los Angeles a 32.0.
A cycle of movies with grim themes, combined with an awards season that lacked momentum due to the writers strike, were among the factors leading to this year's low ratings.