An estimated 41.3 million people saw "The Hurt Locker" top the popular "Avatar" for best picture in the most-watched Academy Awards telecast since 2005.
Oscar viewership was up 14 percent over last year, the Nielsen Co. said Monday, keeping with a trend of bigger audiences for major events on broadcast television a month after the Super Bowl set the mark for most-watched telecast ever.
In true film fashion, the Oscars built to a big climax when the Iraqi war thriller "The Hurt Locker" and its director, Kathryn Bigelow, topped "Avatar," directed by her ex-husband James Cameron. Bigelow was the first woman to win the Oscar for best director.
The audience was up from the 36.3 million who saw "Slumdog Millionaire" win best picture last year and 32 million — Oscar's smallest audience on record — in 2008, Nielsen said. The Oscars had just over 42 million watch in 2005, when "Million Dollar Baby" was the big winner.
The Oscar ratings fall in line with bigger audiences for awards shows in recent months. The Golden Globes were up 14 percent over the year before, and the performance-heavy Grammys up 36 percent, Nielsen said. The Emmys, the Tonys and the Miss America pageant all saw higher ratings.
Analysts say fewer chances for Americans to gather in front of the television set for communal events may help make these events more popular. With a poor economy, more people are staying home, too. The Internet may also help draw viewers; experts say many people are online while the shows are on, and they comment about them to friends.
Ratings for the New York market appeared unaffected by a business dispute between Cablevision and ABC's parent, Walt Disney Co.
ABC had been dropped by Cablevision for its 3.1 million subscribers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Sunday, and the network was not restored until 13 minutes after the Academy Awards telecast began.
Still, New York ranked No. 13 among among the 56 biggest media markets in the country, Nielsen said. New York's overnight rating was 11 percent above the average for all of the big markets.