LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The TV audience for the 2016 Oscars on Sunday night apparently dropped to a seven-year low, according to preliminary ratings released on Monday, amid a controversy over diversity in Hollywood.
Early Nielsen data from the top 56 U.S. cities showed that the audience for the ceremony aired on the Walt Disney Co-owned ABC network fell by 6 percent compared with last year's Oscars telecast.
National audience figures giving audience totals in millions were expected later on Monday.
The low estimates came despite the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio and other popular actors and anticipation about how host Chris Rock, who is black, would address the furor over an all-white line-up of acting nominees. (Rock skewered Hollywood over diversity in his opening monologue.)
It was not immediately clear on Monday whether the small audience was due to calls by civil rights leader Al Sharpton for a "tune out" to protest the absence of people of color among the nominees.
"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," Sharpton said in a statement. "And to those that mocked the idea of a tune out, it seems the joke was on them."
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)