Oscars ride 'Avatar effect' to ratings surge

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The Independent Online

Television ratings for the Academy Awards surged to their highest level in five years, figures showed Monday, likely boosted by the inclusion of box office giant "Avatar" in the best picture race.

Figures from the Nielsen media research company reported that an average of 41.3 million viewers watched Sunday's show at the Kodak Theater, a remarkable 14 percent increase from last year's telecast watched by 36.3 million.

It was the largest television audience for an Oscars since the 2005 awards, which averaged 42.1 million viewers.

Seventy million viewers watched at least six minutes of Sunday's telecast, according to Nielsen.

Analysts say the ratings boost was likely explained by the presence of the record-breaking "Avatar" in an expanded field of 10 best picture nominees.

There has traditionally been a correlation between the box office figures of the best picture nominees and Oscar viewership, with nominees with high box office receipts leading to highly watched Oscar telecasts.

Oscar viewership sank to a record low in 2008, when 32.01 million tuned in to watch a ceremony where dark, independent-oriented movies dominated.

Viewership rose 13 percent in 2009, when Australian heartthrob Hugh Jackman hosted and several broadly popular format changes were made.

The most-watched ceremony since individual viewership figures began in 1998, when 55.25 million tuned in to see the box office record-setter "Titanic" win best picture honors.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences opted to double the number of best picture contenders following the controversial exclusion Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight" from last year's awards.

Experts say the decision was designed to allow for more populist movies to enter the Oscars race, boosting ratings numbers.

The increased viewership of the Oscars has been mirrored by rising ratings for other awards shows. Over the past year, viewership for the Emmys, Golden Globe Awards and Grammys all recorded increases in viewership following years of plummeting numbers.