Although many news outlets (including the BBC) are claiming that a billion people will tune in to the 81st Academy Awards, the figure turns out to have little grounding in reality. The billion-strong audience claim has been knocking around for a long time - Daniel Radosh recounts in an article for the New Yorker that the figure was first touted way back in 1985. Although no supporting evidence has ever been provided to verify the claim, Radosh makes the reasoned guess that someone must extrapolated the 43.5 million domestic audience (15% of the US population) to 15% of the global population, which comes in at close enough to a billion.
Of course, as the ceremony is a) held in a language not spoken by a majority of the world's population b) only available on specialist broadcast outside of the US and c) largely irrelevant outside of English-speaking cinema, it's difficult to see how anyone could have expected that 15% figure to be replicated outside of the US. Moreso, a third of the world's televisions sit in Chinese hands (CIA World Factbook 2003 estimate), and only 1% of those will be tuned in to the red carpet.
Things have only got worse for the Academy Awards since Radosh wrote his article. Writing yesterday in the National, Andrew Gumbel reveals that last year's ceremony only drew 32 million in the US - the smallest audience yet recorded. Adding to woes is the current economic climate, as major sponsors pull out and cut-price advertising for the show goes unsold.
On the upside , these troubles might inspire those behind the show to up their game. A notoriously self-congratulatory effort, the ceremony has long ignored film industries both larger and more productive than Hollywood, such as those in India and Nigeria. However, with Slumdog Millionaire set to sweep the boards - a British film made in India - this might be the push the Oscars needs to branch out, embrace new audiences and maybe come a little closer to that mythical billion viewers.
A billion? Like, ten to the twelve?
No no no, one short scale billion, 109, a thousand million....