US television ratings for this year�s Oscars sunk to an all-time low, preliminary figures showed Monday, as viewers turned their back on a ceremony dominated by dark, bleak films.
According to figures from Nielsen Media Research, Sunday�s three-hour-long ceremony at the Kodak Theatre averaged an audience of only 32 million viewers, the worst since records began in 1974.
The previous lowest figure had been in 2003, when only 33.04 million people tuned in for a ceremony won by �Chicago� that took place just days after the beginning of the US-led war in Iraq.
Final figures are due to be released on Tuesday but are not expected to change significantly. If the 2008 figures are confirmed, it would represent a drop of more than 20 percent from last year�s average audience of 41 million.
The record-low audience came in a year when the Oscars race for best picture was dominated by films that received critical acclaim but struggled to perform at the box-office.
Only one film out of the five best picture nominees � the teenage comedy �Juno� � broke the 100 million dollar barrier this year.
Analysts say there is a high correlation between the box-office popularity of films nominated for the Oscars best picture and television viewership for the Academy Awards.
The largest average audience ever for the Oscars telecast came in 1998, when 55.25 million watched the ceremony which was won by �Titanic�, the highest grossing movie of all time with box-office earnings of 1.85 billion dollars.
Sunday�s Oscars were won by Joel and Ethan Coen�s bleak thriller �No Country for Old Men,� a grim adapation of Cormac McCarthy�s novel of the same name.
The film won four awards � best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor.
The acting awards on Sunday were swept by non-American actors for the first time since 1965.