LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Some 37.6 million Americans watched Sunday's widely-panned Oscar ceremony, making the telecast one of the least-watched Academy Awards shows of the past 10 years.
But attempts by Oscar organizers to attract a younger audience appeared to have paid off, with the show keeping 95 percent of its 18-34 year-old audience from last year, according to Nielsen ratings data on Monday.
Sunday's 37.6 million audience for broadcaster ABC was down nearly 10 percent from the 41.7 million who tuned in last year, when blockbuster "Avatar" was among the movie nominees.
But on the night when "The King's Speech" reigned with four Oscars, the telecast was still the most-watched event of the night, with more than double the audience of other TV networks combined.
ABC said its red carpet pre-show pulled in the largest audience since 2007, and that video viewing online at Oscar.com and through the Oscar Backstage Pass App surged by 29 percent to more than three million views.
Sunday's Oscar telecast was bigger than the 2009 (36.3 million) and 2008 (32 million) audiences but drew the fourth smallest audience since 2002 when "A Beautiful Mind" took the best picture trophy.
Television critics mostly slammed the show, which was hosted for the first time by actors Anne Hathaway, 28, and James Franco, 32.
The Hollywood Reporter said the ceremony "could go down as one of the worst Oscar telecasts in history."
The New York Times said "the prolonged effort to pander to younger viewers was downright painful" at times, while the Boston Herald remarked sourly that "references to the Internet, apps and Facebook do not make a show trendy, or alas, entertaining."
Time magazine said the experiment of using actors rather than traditional comedians had largely failed, while Franco in particular "seemed to retreat into a haze, smirking, squinting and clasping his hands in front of him."
Entertainment Weekly, however, said Hathaway and Franco were "marvelous Oscar hosts" calling them "funny, poised, relaxed, and smart."
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte