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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Stars may be aligned for improved Oscar ratings

    LOS ANGELES — If Sunday’s Oscar telecast ends up breaking ratings records, organizers might just want to send a thank-you in the Na’vi language toJames Cameron.

    Cameron’s “”Avatar,”” a sci-fi fable about endangered tree-dwellers on the fictional moon Pandora, has become the highest-grossing picture of all time with more than $700 million in U.S. box office. It’s also up for nine nominations including best picture. The last time a Cameron picture brought home academy hardware — for the previous box-office champion, “”Titanic,”” in 1998 — the award telecast soared to new heights. That year, an average of 55.2 million viewers tuned in, according to the Nielsen Co.

    So the TV gods may finally be smiling on the academy after recent times when the ceremony has seemed to drift along with tepidly received hosts, little-seen contenders and a growing sense of viewer apathy.

    Analysts credit officials’ decision to enlarge the pool of best-picture nominees from five to 10, which theoretically allows more room for crowd-pleasing films.

    “”Otherwise, ‘Avatar’ may not have been nominated,”” saidSteve Sternberg, a veteran audience analyst who runs the Sternberg Report Web site.

    Another plus sign for Oscar: This is turning out to be a good year for live events, despite executives’ worry about the continuing fragmentation of the TV audience. Award shows such as the Grammys have posted healthy increases and NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics drew big crowds. Last month’s Super Bowl on CBS was the most-watched TV program in history, with more than 106 million viewers. Experts say the sluggish economy continues to give Americans a good reason to stretch out on the sofa and entertain themselves on the cheap.

    “”More people are staying home to watch these events,”” saidDave Karger, who writes the OscarWatch blog for Entertainment Weekly.

    It also may help that the producing duo behind this year’s show,Adam ShankmanandBill Mechanic, have spiced the lineup with presenters chosen to appeal to younger viewers, even if the co-hosts,Steve MartinandAlec Baldwin, look like a pitch to the middle-aged crowd.

    “”When you haveMiley Cyrusand the cast of ‘Twilight’ presenting,”” Karger said, “”that’s going to bring new eyeballs.””

    However, it may be hard for the Oscars to hit a record this year, if only because it’s a little out of practice with such things. Last year’s telecast, withHugh Jackmanas host, delivered 36.3 million total viewers, up 13 percent from the previous year. But to break the “”Titanic”” record, Sunday’s program would need to post a whopping 52 percent year-to-year increase — possible but unlikely given the level of competition that exists on TV today.

    Longtime analystShari Anne Brillpredicted that the show won’t go near the 1998 number, although “”ratings will be up versus last year,”” she said.

    Although the Oscar telecast has remained very popular among older Americans, it has steadily lost appeal among young adults over the last decade.

    In 1999, the year after “”Titanic’s”” big win, the Oscars commanded 45 percent of the adults ages 18 to 49 audience. By last year, its share had shrunk to 29 percent.

    Organizers have tried to lure younger viewers back over the last few years with hip hosts, such asChris RockandJon Stewart. But the films being honored didn’t always cooperate with that agenda. In 2008, when the violent, downbeat art-house picture “”No Country for Old Men”” won best picture, the telecast slipped to a record-low 32 million viewers. Stewart was the host.

    “”When ‘No Country for Old Men’ or ‘Chicago‘ is the front-runner for best picture, a regular entertainment fan isn’t necessarily going to care who wins,”” Karger said.

    This time around, however, there no such problems.

    “”If the Oscars are huge this year, I don’t think it’s going to be becauseSteve MartinandAlec Baldwinare the hosts,”” Karger said. “”It’s going to be because of ‘Avatar’ and the economy.””

     

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