Host Jimmy Kimmel. Image Credit: REUTERS

The audience for Sunday’s Academy Awards telecast was the lowest in the event’s history, raising fresh doubts about the media industry’s ability to attract ever-growing audiences to live events.

The almost four-hour show drew 26.5 million viewers on Walt Disney Co’s ABC Network, down 20 per cent from a year ago and the smallest audience since Nielsen began tracking viewers in 1974. The Shape of Water, from 21st Century Fox Inc, won the Oscar for best picture.

Viewing of live events, such as awards shows and sports, has declined along with the rest of TV viewing. The television audience for the Oscars has fallen every year since 2014, when 43.7 million people watched 12 Years a Slave win best picture.

Only two of the pictures that featured in last night’s programme, the horror movie Get Out and the Second World War drama Dunkirk, tallied more than $100 million (Dh367.2 million) in North American box-office sales, suggesting that many weren’t even seen by much of the public. Much of the commentary from winners and presenters was focused on social issues, including sexual harassment of women and gender pay disparities.

Yet while ratings continue to fall, programmers are still charging higher rates to advertisers, who remain willing, for now, to pay up because they have few alternatives to reaching large live audiences. ABC was reportedly asking as much as $2.6 million for Oscars commercials, more than in previous years, according to Variety.