OSCAR'S RATINGS RISE

Ratings for the 81st Annual Academy Awards Sunday were up slightly from last year's record low. The telecast averaged 33.57 million viewers versus 32.01 million in 2008. The telecast peaked early, grabbing 37.70 million in the first half hour at 8:30 p.m., but falling to 29.86 million by the time the 10:30 p.m. period rolled around. Ratings for the period after 11:00 p.m., officially the end of the primetime hours, were not immediately available, but they are expected to show an even greater decline. The show itself, which had been touted by some as a major overhaul of the Oscar ceremonies, received lukewarm reactions from critics. Host Hugh Jackman received polite applause. "Mr. Jackman came across less as comic than as cabaret performer," the New York Times observed. Washington Post media critic Tom Shales wrote that Jackman "proved again that he's a versatile and energetic talent, but as an outsider from Australia and a mere hired hand, he appeared to have little if any emotional investment in the proceedings. ... Although Jackman was a competent host, he was by no means an inspired choice." Reporting for the BBC, Ben Sutherland commented: "We had been promised a transformed show this year, not least because it was time for a new host. For 2009 the Academy had turned to Hugh Jackman ... to provide the show-stopping performance that has eluded the likes of Jon Stewart and Chris Rock in recent years. How did Jackman do? Well, it is almost unfair to judge -- given that he got so little stage time." But Robert Bianco in USA Today remarked that whatever improvements there were in the show came "more in spite of host Hugh Jackman than because of him." And Mark A. Perigard concluded in the Boston Herald: "Hugh Jackman did not embarrass himself. But he came close."

FCC ROLLS OUT NEW ORDERS FOR DIGITAL ROLL-OUT

In an 85-page second rules order for digital TV transition, the FCC gave broadcasters that are currently transmitting analog signals until March 17 to inform the commission of when they plan to switch over to digital TV if it is before the mandatory June 12 date. The FCC also indicated that none of the station should make the switch before April 16. The order also requires stations to broadcast an "educational" announcement along the lines of the following: "The nationwide switch to digital television broadcasting will be complete on June 12, 2009, but your local television stations may switch sooner. After the switch, analog- only television sets that receive TV programming through an antenna will need a converter box to continue to receive over-the-air TV. Watch your local stations to find out when they will turn off their analog signal and switch to digital-only broadcasting."

CABLE NETS NOW MAKING MOVIES

The made-for-TV movie, once commonplace on broadcast networks, has become virtually the purview of cable TV networks, with more than 100 such productions due to be carried by them this year, according to Multichannel News. "Movies represented an opportunity for us to do original programming where you didn't have to be committed to 13 episodes for a series," Hallmark channel programming chief David Kenin told the publication. "You could customize [movies] or a specific time period, and you could use movies to counter program big events on the other networks." Moreover they can be run multiple times and draw new viewers to cable channels, Sci Fi Channel's Thomas Vitale told Multichannel News. Likewise ABC Family channel president Paul Lee, which focuses on the 18-34-year-old audience, said, "There's a real hunger among viewers for a well-made family movie, and people know that we're going to make great romantic comedy and they know what we're going to provide them."

O'BRIEN PULLS UP NEW YORK STAKES

Signing off from New York for the last time -- Late Show host Conan O'Brien paid tribute to his predecessor, David Letterman, Friday night. He called Letterman, who is about to become O'Brien's direct rival when O'Brien takes over the Tonight show in June, "one of the most brilliant broadcasters, certainly of the last century and this century and of all time." He said that Letterman "set the bar absurdly high" for anyone wishing to host a late-night talk show. "Living in his shadow has been a burden and an inspiration for me for years." As for the man he'll be replacing in June, O'Brien said that Jay Leno's success "has turned into success for us. ... I owe that man a great deal." But he left no doubt that the man he owes the most to is producers Lorne Michaels. "In 1993, Lorne Michaels took one of the greatest and most ridiculous chances in the history of this medium when he plopped a completely unknown writer with no television experience and bad skin and threw him on television," he said. ... Lorne Michaels single-handedly made my career in television." The final show produced O'Brien's best ratings in more than two years.

TSG VS. TMZ

An online feud appears to have erupted between two websites that specialize in the shenanigans of celebrities, TMZ (for Thirty Mile Zone, the "Hollywood" area of Los Angeles) and TSG (for The Smoking Gun). On Friday, TSG chastised TMZ for paying a reported $62,500 for a photograph showing singer Rihanna after she had allegedly been battered by her boyfriend, singer Chris Brown. TSG said that publishing such photographs is standard operating procedure for TMZ and noted that last April the website published the name and photo of a 14-old-boy, the son of a celebrity, who had been having sex with a 22-year-old woman. (The photo was taken when the boy was 10.) Without referring to the TSG article, Harvey Levin, who runs the TMZ website, said that he had published the picture because it "really tells such a powerful story."

RANT BY CNBC REPORTER BECOMES ONLINE HIT

A rant by CNBC reporter Rick Santelli on Friday against President Obama's proposed policy for dealing with the collapsing housing market drew far more viewers when it was posted on the channel's website than on the channel itself. The channel, which averages about 350,000 viewers, saw !.9 million viewers access Santelli's harangue on CNBC.com. Santelli's remarks, broadcast from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade ("Why don't you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages?") was greeted with cheers from those on the floor.