Oscars ratings up as Billy Crystal returns

US television ratings for this year’s Oscars show were up 4 percent on last year, despite the absence of major blockbuster movies among films nominated, figures showed Monday.

The increase came after veteran host Billy Crystal returned for his ninth turn presenting the Academy Awards, a year after a widely-criticized attempt to attract a younger audience with youthful presenters.

The 84th Academy Awards show Sunday night, at which silent movie “The Artist” scooped five prizes including Best Picture, was watched by 39.3 million viewers on host broadcaster ABC.

Last year the show was co-hosted by Anne Hathaway and James Franco, in what was seen as a bid to bring in younger viewers, but which was panned, especially for Franco’s wooden performance.

The 2011 show, where the main films included blockbuster Facebook movie “the Social Network,” drew in 37.9 million viewers, according to ratings analyst Nielsen, cited by the Variety industry daily.

This year 63-year-old Crystal, drafted at the last minute after actor Eddie Murphy pulled out due to a row over anti-gay comments by a producer, poked fun at the attempts to target audience.

In an opening video segment of skits linked to the main nominated movies, Crystal and teen sensation Justin Bieber played a scene from Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”

“Justin Bieber?” Crystal asks the Canadian singer, in a carriage which transports Allen’s central character back in time. “Yeah man, what’s up?” replies Bieber, explaining: “I’m here to get you the 18-to-24 demographic.”

Variety said that in fact Crystal, while older, was known as a popular safe pair of hands who probably attracted many viewers back to the show.

In addition, although the two most-nominated films this year, “The Artist” and Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” were not blockbusters, the Oscars broadcast made more of an effort to reach a younger audience via social media, the daily said.

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