Oscars Test TV Season; Fewer Big Movies Big Factor

The Oscars, the big award show, will be looking for an upset award from viewers in this strike-tarred season.

If ratings slip, you can certainly blame viewer malaise courtesy of the writers' strike. But also point a finger at those small, relatively unknown movies that now typically dominate the Academy Awards.

One scenario says while big event shows like the Oscars and the Super Bowl are creatures unto themselves, this asterisk-marked season needs some major industry-wide marketing efforts to right all network programs.

Since the strike ended, a number of executives have bemoaned the fact that originally scripted shows -- as well as some reality shows -- are yielding some surprisingly low ratings results.

For example, CBS' "Cold Case" this past Sunday did a 1.9 rating among 18-49 viewers. Admittedly this was against some stiff competition, such as the NBA All Star Game on ABC, and NBC's high-rated "Knight Rider" movie. But many other established original-scripted shows have shown similar weak results.

Overall, viewers don't seem to be completely aware there is fresh programming on the networks. Is that the fault of network marketers -- or a side effect of a strike season where viewers are unsure about what is on the air?

If the Oscars fail to stir an audience, critics might not blame overall network marketing but the usual suspects of recent years -- the Oscar nominees of little-known independent movies. This year only one movie -- "Juno" -- pulled in more than $100 million at the box office.

Increasingly this should be less of an excuse. Big-time movie stars like the small-time independent movies as a way of showing off their acting chops. George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cate Blanchett have been nominated. Viewers who really want to see their favorite big-film stars will tune in.

The Academy Awards regularly pulls in some 40 million viewers -- a little less than half that of the Super Bowl. The biggest Oscar show to date came in 1998, the year of "Titanic"'s big win, which pulled in some 55 million viewers.

If the Oscars maintain anywhere near a 40-million-viewer pace this year, it would seemingly mean TV is back to normal. Anything bigger would mean something akin to a New York Giants Super Bowl victory -- an upset -- for Oscar viewers.



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