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The Oscar Telecast's Ratings: Less Than Rock Solid

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, March 1, 2005; Page C07

About 41.5 million viewers watched Chris Rock's first (and, many were speculating yesterday, last) gig as Oscar host on Sunday. That was 2 million fewer viewers than watched last year's Billy Crystal-hosted Oscarcast.

Based on the numbers, it would appear that the decision to hire Rock to host the Academy Awards show -- a choice that had done so much these past few weeks to cause the media's knotted and combined locks to part, and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine -- did not have the same sensational effect on the public at large.

Wish we had a buck for every time that's happened.

Some industry pundits had speculated that Oscar viewing levels would be high because of Rock's gig -- the mere anticipation of which had caused the media's hair to stand on end like that porpentine (aka porcupine) whose one big moment in "Hamlet" we pinched above, proving that you never know when the drivel you're forced to memorize in school is going to finally come in handy. Indeed, news reports early yesterday said Sunday's Oscar numbers were the franchise's best in five years.

Those reports, however, had been based on so-called "metered market" ratings, which aren't worth the per-pound price of porpentine when it comes to trying to figure out national numbers for a live broadcast such as the Academy Awards.

In fairness, Rock's audience was much larger than the paltry 33 million who had gathered around their sets to watch the Academy Awards in 2003, when Steve Martin hosted the show. (That audience remains the trophy show's smallest ever.)

On the other hand, Rock's following was about 1.5 million viewers shy of the audience for the Martin-hosted 2001 Academy Awards. Rock also scored fewer viewers than Oscarcasts of 2002, 2000, 1999, '98, '96, '95,'94, '93, '92, '91, '89 -- we could go on and on.

This was not because, as Oscar hosts go, Rock was lousy, though there is a compelling argument to be made (and quite a number of critics have made it) that Rock was pretty lousy. This was because the number of viewers who tune in to the Academy Awards is largely dependent on what movies are in the race.

This year, for the first time in 15 years, none of the Best Picture contenders has broken $100 million at the box office. Last year, on the other hand, blockbuster "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" was among the final five.

Back in October, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Rock would host the Oscars, sending the media's locks into that porpentine routine, Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis said Rock was sure to attract those young male viewers the show has had so much trouble getting to watch.

So how did Rock do with young male viewers? Not so well, turns out.

This year's Oscarcast is down in that age bracket compared with last year. In fact, Rock's male 18-to-34 numbers are lower than any Academy Awards broadcast in recent Oscar history, except that super-lousy one in 2003.

ABC noted yesterday afternoon in its Oscar ratings roundup that the show posted its best numbers in that demographic group in three years and credited the boost to Rock.


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