Updated: ABC Draws 36.3 Mil. for Oscars, Says Nielsen

Based on the fast national ratings from Nielsen Media Research, The 81st Annual Academy Awards on ABC averaged a hefty 36.3 million viewers with a 12.1 rating among adults 18-49 on Sunday.

Comparably, that makes it the most-watched entertainment telecast since the 79th Annual festivities on Feb. 25, 2007, and highest rated among adults 18-49 since Fox’s American Idol on Feb. 12, 2008. Year-to-year, The Oscars built by 4.3 million viewers (36.3 vs. 32.0 million), 13 percent among adults 18-49 (12.1 vs. 10.7) and as high as 22 percent among men 18-34 (8.9 vs. 7.3). ABC is reporting that The 81st Annual Academy Awards reached 67.56 million unique viewers (who watched at least six minutes of the telecast).

Earlier in the evening on ABC was The Barbara Walters Special at 11.6 million viewers and a 3.2 among adults 18-49 from 7-8 p.m., followed by Oscar’s Red Carpet 2009 preshow at 24.3 million viewers and a 7.2 in the demo at 8 p.m. 

Comparatively, that was an increase of 2.8 million viewers and 13 percent among adults 18-49 for the Red Carpet special from one year earlier.

As for the awards themselves, as predicted, it was the year of Slumdog Millionaire, with the rags-to-riches tale winning eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Second in number of trophies was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with three, including Best Art Direction, Make-Up and Visual Effects. 

Acting nods were easy to pick – Kate Winstet as Lead Actress for The Reader, Penelope Cruz for Supporting Actress for Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the late Heath Legder for Supporting Actor in The Dark Night. But the neck-and-neck battle between Sean Penn and comeback kid Mickey Rourke for Lead Actor ultimately went to now two-time winner Penn for his performance as Harvey Milk in drama Milk.
In a night with few surprises, the one true upset was Departures from Japan, the story of a man in a small town working in a mortuary, as Best Foreign Language Film. Animated Waltz With Bashir from Israel was considered the shoo-in.
Here is a complete listing of the winners:

-Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
-Lead Actor: Sean Penn (Milk)
-Lead Actress: Kate Winslet (The Reader)
-Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
-Supporting Actor: Heath Legder (The Dark Knight)
-Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
-Foreign Language Film: Departures (Japan)
-Animated Feature: Wall-E
-Animated Short Film: La Maison en Petits Cubes
-Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
-Original Screenplay: Milk
-Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
-Costume Design: The Duchess
-Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
-Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
-Documentary Short: Smile Pinki
-Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
-Live Action Short Film: Spielzeugland (Toyland)
-Make-Up: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
-Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire
-Original Song: “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire)
-Sound Editing: The Dark Knight
-Sound Mixing: Slumdog Millionaire
-Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button