Maybe it was the expanded best-picture category or, who knows, maybe it was that Neil Patrick Harris opening number. Whatever it was, Oscar ratings were up big time.
About 41.3 million people tuned in to ABC last night for the 82nd Academy Awards to see "The Hurt Locker" take best picture and best director and Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock walk away with the lead acting honors. That's an almost 14% jump from the 2009 awards, which were seen by 36.3 million, according to Nielsen. In the coveted category of adults ages 18 to 49, the Oscars averaged a 13.1 rating, an 8% gain over last year's show. Each rating point in that demographic represents 1.3 million viewers.
Sunday's telecast was the most-watched Oscars since the 2005 show, which saw Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" take best picture. in five years. This is the second year in a row the audience for the Oscars has grown. Of course, the bar has been pretty low lately. The 2008 awards, which saw "No Country for Old Men" take the top prize, were the least-viewed on record with only 32 million people watching.
The Oscar ratings again highlight the strength of big event television. The audiences have been growing for award shows as of late, with the Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, Super Bowl and Grammy Awards all seeing their audiences get bigger.
ABC was certainly helped by its parent company, Walt Disney Co., resolving its fight with Cablevision Systems Corp. Disney had pulled the signal of WABC-TV New York from 3.1 million Cablevision homes in the nation's No. 1 television market. A tentative deal was reached between the two companies as the show began, and the signal was restored to those homes about 15 minutes into the Oscar telecast. Numbers in New York for the first half hour of the show's broadcast were down but rose throughout the night as word spread that WABC-TV was back on in Cablevision homes.
The painful Oscar pre-show on ABC, in which co-host Kathy Ireland, whose interview skills with stars was a disservice to Sports Illustrated swimsuit models everywhere, averaged 25.1 million viewers. Barbara Walters' final interview special lured 15 million viewers, a 30% gain over the 2009 special.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Director and best picture winner Kathryn Bigelow does some two-fisted celebrating. Credit: Valerie Macon/ AFP Getty Images.