LOS ANGELES — The Oscars tripped in their transition to a hipper, younger, media-mad future, attracting 12 percent fewer viewers than last year in the important 18-to-49 age bracket.
Early ratings results for Sunday night’s broadcast of the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony on ABC pointed toward an overall audience of 37.6 million, about 4 million viewers short of last year’s 41.7 million.
In a year when ratings for the Grammys, the Golden Globes, and the Super Bowl were all up, the bright, new Twitter-fingered Oscars were down. Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which bestows the awards and produces the telecast, was not ready to concede defeat, however. “I think it’s a beginning — everything needs to start somewhere,” Sherak said in a telephone interview. “Something didn’t work? Let’s try to fix it.”
The viewership figures mean the annual movie awards are still chugging along as a spectacle one-third the size of the Super Bowl, almost as big as a good playoff game and down about 34 percent from its own contemporary ratings peak, in 1998, when Titanic helped deliver more than 57 million viewers.
But even these soft ratings may go down as an achievement, given the forces and flubs that threatened to sink the show after a season so trying that even Scott Rudin — a producer who had both The Social Network and True Grit among the best picture nominees — decided to stay home in New York rather than attend.
Rudin was tied up with previews for his Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, as well as the first weekend of shooting in New York on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a film directed by Stephen Daldry.
Having moved on, Rudin missed being there to watch a film distributed by his sometime business rival Harvey Weinstein take the best picture Oscar. The King’s Speech took that trophy, along with prizes for its screenplay, by David Seidler; its director, Tom Hooper; and its lead actor, Colin Firth.
But Rudin also sidestepped a show that was working hard to stay afloat amid the debris of a season that inflicted some damage on almost everyone who took part. With 10 nominations, True Grit got no prizes. The Social Network, once considered a lock for best picture, won awards only for its script, its score and its editing. Toy Story 3 won best animated movie, but there was the simultaneous suggestion that voters don’t take that art form seriously in the top race.
The Academy had to make do this year without an Avatar, the sort of late-season, prize-worthy crowd pleaser that automatically draws an audience to the show. Instead, it worked hard — you could almost hear the gears grinding through montages that made obligatory turns in all directions — to build its 10 best pictures into an engine strong enough to drive the show.