Latest Oscar telecast most watched in five years

Mon Mar 8, 2010 6:56pm EST
 
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Avatar" may have failed to repeat the Academy Award success for "Titanic," but James Cameron's latest hit film proved once again: nothing draws eyeballs to the Oscars like the nomination of a blockbuster.

Sunday night's Oscars drew 41.3 million U.S. viewers, up 5 million from last year and the biggest audience for the Academy Awards in five years, the Nielsen Company reported on Monday.

The average viewership tally for the 3 1/2-hour-plus live broadcast on ABC, a unit of the Walt Disney Co, also marked the second straight year of Nielsen gains for the film industry's annual celebration.

Co-hosted by comic stars Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin -- the first pair of emcees to share the stage since Oscar came to television -- the show drew middling reviews from critics, some of whom found the broadcast awkwardly paced.

Oscar organizers had sought to broaden the public appeal by doubling the number of films nominated for best picture from the usual five to 10, thus including more movies seen by mass audiences in the awards sweepstakes.

In the end, a low-budget Iraq war drama that was largely an arthouse favorite, "The Hurt Locker," was the evening's biggest winner, picking up six prizes in all, including Oscars for best film and best director.

But the presence among the contenders of "Avatar," the highest-grossing movie of all time, and its front-runner status in the race was likely the single biggest factor in the boosting the Oscars' ratings performance on Sunday night.

'AVATAR BUZZ'   Continued...

 
<p>Best actress winner Sandra Bullock for the film "The Blind Side," displays her Oscar at the 82nd Academy Awards in Hollywood March 7, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson</p>