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Academy Awards TV Audience Declines 9.8% to 37.6 Million

The Academy Awards attracted 37.6 million television viewers last night, a drop from last year, when the 3-D film “Avatar” was setting box-office records and sparking interest in the annual ceremony.

The audience for last night’s Oscars telecast on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC declined 9.8 percent from the 41.7 million who tuned in a year earlier, according to Nielsen Co. data released today by the network.

The audience for the annual awards show, typically the most watched U.S. program after the Super Bowl and National Football League playoffs, waxes and wanes with the popularity of films at the box office. Last year, James Cameron’s “Avatar,” released in 2009, was one of 10 films nominated for best picture.

In 2010, U.S. box-office sales fell slightly to $10.57 billion, bolstered by higher 3-D ticket prices, while attendance slid 5.7 percent. In 2011, attendance is down 22 percent.

In last night’s show, hosted by actors Anne Hathaway and James Franco, “The King’s Speech” was crowned best picture and its leading man, Colin Firth, won the Oscar for best actor. Director Tom Hooper and writer David Seidler also captured statuettes for their work on the film.

The top honors for 2010 films went to pictures made with modest budgets that went on to produce considerable box-office profits. “The King’s Speech” was made for $15 million and took in $237 million in global ticket sales, according to researcher Box Office Mojo. “Black Swan” cost $13 million and generated $204 million in ticket sales worldwide.

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