ABC TV said Monday 34.3 million Americans watched the 2016 Oscars, the lowest ratings in eight years for the glitzy culmination to Hollywood's annual awards season.
Despite headlines generated by a race row embroiling the 88th Academy Awards, the audience was six percent down on last year's 36.6 million in the same day "fast nationals" rating.
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, who had called for viewers to "tune out" after no ethnic minority nominees were announced in the acting categories for the second year running, said the drop was "heartening."
"This is a significant decline and should send a message to the Academy and to movie studio heads," Sharpton, who led a small protest in Hollywood on Sunday, said in a statement.
"Though clearly we don't take full credit for the decline, certainly one would have to assume we were effective and part of the decline."
The show itself, though controversial, received generally favorable reviews from the critics, who reserved their most fulsome praise for host Chris Rock, who targeted the Academy with a series of caustic jokes about the Oscars' lack of racial diversity.
Erik Davis, managing editor of film website Fandango, described the evening as "one of the most consistently entertaining Oscar shows in memory."
ABC said in a statement this year's show had played well with adults aged 18 to 34, a key demographic for advertisers, rising one percentage point.
The network cited figures by the Nielsen rating agency which showed the ceremony was the subject of 7.2 million tweets, a surge of 22 percent on last year.