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Oscars 2014: Ellen DeGeneres and selfie nation break ratings records

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The only surprises handed out during Sunday's Oscars ceremony were impromptu slices of pizza, but host Ellen DeGeneres and her off-the-cuff approach to Hollywood's crowning glory likely caught analysts off guard by drawing the largest audience for any entertainment telecast in nearly a decade. The 3.5 hour production garnered 43 million viewers, up 6 percent from 40.4 million last year and marking the award show’s third straight year of ratings growth. Numbers in the key 18-49 demographic remained steady, dipping slightly to a 12.9 rating from 13.0 in 2013, but the overall audience was the show’s largest since 2004 and the most-watched non-sports event since the “Friends” finale that same year.

Nielsen numbers aside, DeGeneres offered a more modern contribution to last night’s Oscars success by utilizing the power of social media. Her improvised, mid-show selfie with a throng of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, among others, shattered Twitter’s retweet record within minutes. The previous champion was President Obama’s “Four more years” blurb, which currently boasts more than 700,000 retweets since 2012. Comparatively, DeGeneres and her posse have already tripled that amount in less than 24 hours and the snapshot’s instant popularity caused Twitter’s servers to crash temporarily upon its posting.

Other noteworthy moments from the telecast include moving speeches from winners Lupita Nyong’o (Best Supporting Actress, “12 Years a Slave”) and Jared Leto (Best Supporting Actor, “Dallas Buyers Club”), the latter of whom managed to squeeze in a heartfelt political quip without causing a firestorm of backlash. Nyongo’s triumph completes a remarkable fairy tale of virtually overnight success for the newcomer, whose turn as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s Best Picture winner has launched her onto the Hollywood A-list and cemented her status as a fashion icon.

Of course, the evening wouldn’t be complete without at least one major snafu, and this year the award goes to John Travolta for his astounding bungle of Broadway legend Idina Menzel’s name. The actor was on stage to introduce Menzel’s performance of Oscar-winning song “Let It Go” from Best Animated Feature “Frozen,” and instead of announcing the Tony winner’s playbill-topping moniker, he mumbled what’s since been decoded as “Adele Dazeem.” The explosion of memes, GIFs and fictitious Twitter accounts to commemorate the gaffe quickly ensued, and indicates yet another example of social media’s exponential influence on pop culture phenomena.

The traditional method of measuring ratings success still holds water for Hollywood executives counting on concrete numbers to determine their audiences, and today’s Oscar stats do uphold that convention to a certain extent. However, DeGeneres’ shrewd manipulation of the current digital landscape illustrates an increasingly necessary understanding of media digestion and distribution required to achieve success in today’s public sphere. The most popular news stories surrounding this year’s Oscars, for better or for worse, are hardly focused on the awards themselves. Instead, priority has shifted toward capturing the spontaneous moments most easily regurgitated on one’s Facebook feed or Tumblr page. Victories for Academy Award winners Cate Blanchett (Best Actress, “Blue Jasmine”), Matthew McConaughey (Best Actor, “Dallas Buyers Club”), Alfonso Cuarón (Best Director, “Gravity”) and their peers have already taken a backseat to our fascination surrounding which of them nabbed some of Ellen’s pizza. Let’s hope Travolta saved Adele Dazeem a slice.

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