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Arts and Entertainment

New Rule: You Can't Say A Billion People Watch The Academy Awards Until a Billion Start Watching

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Dear LAist,

On Sunday both Ellen DeGeneres and Vice President Gore said something along the lines of there being a billion people watching the Oscar broadcast. When the Neilson (sic) ratings came out it said that only 37 million Americans watched the program. Did 963 million foreigners really watch that show the other night? If they did, I now understand why they let that guy speak Italian for what seemed forever.

- TF, Highland Park

Dear TF,

I remember the Oscar moments you're referring to:

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"I'll tell you what you should worry about -- there's a billion people watching right now," Ellen kidded the nominees. Later Mr. Gore also used the b-word in a joke, "even though I honestly had not planned on doing this, I guess with a billion people watching, it's as good a time as any".

I hate to break this to you, but while the former VP may be right on the money about global warming, he is off by a few hundred million when it comes to how many people outside the US watch the Academy Awards.

And our favorite lesbian talk show host was wrong too.

Although it's true that somewhere around 40 million people in the US watched the awards last weekend, in order to live up to the fallacy propagated by Ellen and the man who invented the Internets, it would take something bigger than the Oscars to get so many people to all tune into tv at the same time.

Two years ago Daniel Radosh broke it down pretty convincingly in the New Yorker, saying that just because 15% of Americans watch the award ceremony, it would take 15% of the rest of the world to help the Oscars hit that billion mark. And although Canada's doing its part to tune in, there's a big country in Asia that isn't coming anywhere near pushing its weight:

If one uses some generous estimates (is it possible for every man, woman, and child in Russia to get to a TV?), the total potential audience for the Oscars is around two billion. Fifteen per cent of two billion is only three hundred million. Few other countries track television audiences the way the United States does, so solid data are hard to come by, but the evidence isn't promising. For instance, of the 715 million Chinese who could have tuned in last year, only one per cent did. - New Yorker 2/28/05

Meanwhile, there are two other sources who aren't so sure about proclaiming that the Oscars has such a huge audience: the first is Wikipedia, who has put a huge question mark on the part of the entry about the Academy Awards' "Award Night", claiming that the section that purports that the broadcast gets a billion viewers is in dispute.One of the editors of the public online encyclopedia says, "No way in Hell does 1/6th of the world's population watch the Oscars every year. Along with Roy's pointers above, the fact that the award show is on in the wee hours of the morning in all of Europe and Africa and isn't exactly taking up prime time in most of Asia is reason enough to reject the statement as obvious corporate propaganda."

But strangely, if it is propaganda, it isn't coming from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. On their web site they never say a billion people watch.

Every January, when the calendar has turned to a new year, the attention of the entertainment community and of film fans around the world turns to the upcoming Academy Awards. Oscar Fever hits, building to the crescendo of the annual presentation of golden statuettes, when hundreds of millions of cinema lovers glue themselves to their television sets to learn who will receive the highest honor in filmmaking. - "About the Academy Awards", Oscars.org

So no, TF, a billion people didn't watch the Oscars the other night, no matter what the lady in the pants suit or the man in the penguin suit said.- LAist

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photo by Shavar