More than 39 million Americans watched the Oscars ceremony on Sunday, up from 2011, despite a show that some critics described as old-fashioned and a best film win for French silent movie "The Artist" that few people have seen.
The more than three hour telecast was watched by an average 39.3 million people, according to preliminary ratings data on Monday. Broadcaster ABC said it was the second largest audience since 2007. Last year 37.6 million tuned in.
Hosted by old hand Billy Crystal, 63, the awards show also retained all of its audience in the 18-49 year-old age group prized by advertisers, and drew more women in that demographic than last year, the ratings data showed.
The annual Academy Awards show is traditionally one of the most watched events on U.S. television but numbers have slipped in the past few years, especially when blockbuster films like "Avatar" are not in the running for the biggest honors in the movie industry.
But this year, the Academy Awards telecast defied the trend, and the audience was on a par with February's Grammy Awards show which was watched by a bumper 39.9 million Americans and fueled by the sudden death of singer Whitney Houston.
"The Artist", which has made only about $30 million at the North American box office, was the big winner on Sunday with five Oscars including best picture, best director and best actor for Frenchman Jean Dujardin.