An estimated 33.1 million people watched "Chicago" win best picture, Nielsen said on Monday, down sharply from the 41.8 million who watched the Oscars last year.
The Oscars toned down the glitz Sunday night at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood because of the war with Iraq, and going into the weekend, there had been some question whether the ceremony would be held. That took its toll, said Larry Hyams, ABC's chief researcher.
"It was such a special instance, it's hard to speculate what it was beyond the war coverage," Hyams said Monday. He noted that viewership has been sharply up for cable news networks covering the war full time.
The Academy Awards is often the most popular entertainment program of the year, but even last month's finale of "Joe Millionaire," with 40 million viewers, beat it this year.
The previous Oscar lows came in 1987, when 37.2 million people watched "Platoon" win best picture, and 37.8 million in 1986, when "Out of Africa" won.
Oscar's record was the 55.2 million viewers in 1998, when "Titanic" won.