The two-hour show hosted by Queen Latifah on Tuesday averaged just 6 million viewers overall, down 5.3 million from last year, while ratings among viewers ages 18 to 49 -- the group most coveted by advertisers -- fell to less than half the 2007 level, Nielsen Media Research reported on Wednesday.
The film and television awards show had been scaled back from a traditional ceremony, in which stars accept trophies and make speeches onstage, to a "magazine"-style format in which winners gave thank-you speeches in pre-taped interviews.
"There was no sense of ceremony. It was like something being done in a bunker," TV Guide critic Matt Roush said. "Anybody who made it to the end, I suppose, was somebody who had won a People's Choice Award."
The ratings plunge was an ominous sign for this Sunday's telecast of the Golden Globe Awards -- another film and TV awards show that has been reduced to a news conference on NBC due to the Hollywood writers strike. The Golden Globes show regularly reaches about 20 million viewers.
"I think only the most desperate show business junkie will be tuning in Sunday for what they have to offer," Roush said.
Moreover, it could bode ill for the Oscars, the world's top film awards, if the strike is not settled before that ceremony airs on ABC on February 24. Last year, nearly 40 million viewers watched the star-studded Oscars ceremony.
Organizers of the People's Choice and Golden Globe programs altered their shows after the Writers Guild of America refused to grant strike waivers allowing the shows to be written by union writers, and actors were expected to boycott the shows rather than cross picket lines to attend them.
Roughly 10,500 WGA members went on strike against major film and television studios on November 5 in a contract dispute that centers on writers' demands for a greater share of revenue generated by work distributed over the Internet.
The strike has halted production on television shows, derailed films and cast a shadow over Hollywood's awards season.
NBC and organizers of the Golden Globes were still working out details of their one-hour news conference telecast. But a spokesman for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Golden Globes, said red-carpet arrivals and after-parties have been scrapped.
Anticipating a ratings slump, NBC already is offering some advertisers cash back for the event, which typically generates about $20 million in ad revenue for the network, a person familiar with the arrangements told Reuters.
Organizers for the 80th annual Academy Awards are still planning on a traditional ceremony to be hosted by cable television comedian Jon Stewart. So far organizers have given no inkling as to how the show might be altered if the writers strike is not settled by then.