The official tally is in and Sunday's Oscars telecast drew an all-time (well, as long as they've been keeping track) low, with about 33 per cent of households tuning in, down from 42 per cent last year.
Sunday's New York Times featured a David Carr argument that the Oscars remain one of our last collective cultural appointments, but today his defence is wearing a little thin. Maybe we're witnessing the end of yet another societal bond.
Now, it might be possible to just ascribe the ratings to an off year. The writers' strike kept a lot of people in the dark about whether there would even be an Oscars ceremony until the settlement a week or so ago. ABC seemed to be blaming the war in Iraq (view the CBS News story on it). And, even though Juno took in a pretty hefty box office total, there weren't any major blockbusters in the largely dark pack for Best Picture.
But all media are facing the fragmentation of audiences and dealing with the new ways in which they are consumed. Newspapers, radio and television are finding new channels and formats to deliver content. The Oscars and the Olympics, two expensive franchises that have delivered audiences, seem the ripest targets for declines in the years ahead as audiences splinter.
It was interesting to see how many media blogged the ceremonies last night and provided running commentary. The Oscars themselves, though, might need a digital facelift, a streaming version that can capture people on their desktops and cell phones and not just in front of the TV set. Even a major event (and the Oscars are, next to the Super Bowl, America's major TV event) has to adapt.