Oscar TV Audience Shrinks 16% in Show Highlighting Smaller Films

The Academy Awards, Hollywood’s biggest night, attracted its smallest audience in six years as the movie industry highlighted independent films that lacked the broad appeal of studio blockbusters.

The program, carried live on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, drew 36.6 million viewers in the U.S., down 16 percent from a year ago, according to Nielsen data from the network. That’s the smallest audience since “Slumdog Millionaire” won in 2009.

The show was the latest of a busy season of awards nights that found some viewers tuning out. Films with narrow box-office appeal dominated the night, while some winners and performers used the platform to address social concerns. The big winners were “Birdman,” which grabbed best picture, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Whiplash.” The top-grossing nominee, “American Sniper,” won one Oscar.

“The Emmys, Globes and Grammys were all down this season so perhaps there is some fatigue with these events,” Brad Adgate, senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, said in an interview. “There was no real suspense and it was a foregone conclusion who would win in most of the important categories.”

Julianne Moore won best actress for “Still Alice,” the lowest grossing best-actress winner in two decades. She used the awards to address the crippling impact of Alzheimer’s. Others raised issues of pay equality for women, depression and racial inequality.