The 80th annual Academy awards were watched by one of the smallest TV audiences in the event's history, according to early figures.

Estimates from Nielsen Media Research indicate that an average of 32 million people watched the three-hour broadcast on ABC, the lowest TV audience since the current ratings system began in 1974.

While last year's ceremony - hosted by comedienne Ellen Degeneres - drew 41 million viewers, the popularity of "psychopathic killer movies" such as No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood saw a drop in female audience members this year, despite the largely positive reviews for host Jon Stewart.

The 2003 ceremony - shown the day after the US-led invasion of Iraq began - was the Oscars' previous low for viewing figures, with 33 million viewers.

ABC said in a statement that the 2008 ratings did not include the growing number of viewers watching the ceremony on personal video recorder system such as TiVO.

They also pointed to the equally low ratings for this year's other award ceremonies such as the Golden Globes, which was little more than a glorified press conference due to the Hollywood writers' strike.

However, TV critics have criticised the clip-heavy nature of this year's Oscars telecast, with 80th birthday celebrations and the lengthy absence from work of Stewart's writing team blamed for a slow-paced show.

"This wasn't an Oscars," wrote Nikki Finke for Deadline Hollywood. "This was a slightly longer version of the Golden Globes announcement."

And the Washington Post's Tom Shales said the show went "clip-clip-clipping along", adding: "This is not a good thing."

26/02/2008 11:05:23