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Oscar gets a lift

Kudocast may be breaking ratings slump

Oscar may have lost some ballots and statuettes along the way, but it also found some more viewers.

Sunday’s telecast of the 72nd annual Academy Awards on ABC has improved on last year’s ratings and ranks as the kudocast’s second most-watched show in the last five years, according to preliminary national results from Nielsen. During that span, only the 1998 “Titanic”-led show ranked higher.

The Oscar rating, which measures the percentage of U.S. TV homes tuning in to an average minute, was a 29.2, up 2% from last year’s 28.6 and 7% better than 1997. Sunday night’s share, a percentage measured against only the homes in which televisions were in use during the show, was a 48, topping the 46 reached in both 1997 and 1999.

The top-rated Oscarcast came in 1956, when best picture “Marty” drew a 46.7 rating and 82 share. The last time the awards show saw a 60 share was in 1979.

This year’s telecast, hosted by Billy Crystal, averaged an estimated 46.3 million viewers and a 19.1 rating among the key advertising demo of adults 18-49, the second-best delivery in each category in the last five years. ABC estimates that the number of viewers who watched at least a portion of this year’s show was 79 million, up from last year’s 78 million. (Current telecasts benefit from total-viewer figures because of ongoing population increases.)If these numbers hold up when Nielsen releases official numbers today, it would indicate that the longtime viewer favorite is showing signs of breaking out of a slump. The blockbuster ratings for the 1998 “Titanic”-led telecast (34.9/55 in homes) may have been an anomaly, but Oscar has seen some residual ratings dividends the last two years, especially from the groups of women that drove “Titanic” to the kudocast’s best ratings in 15 years.

It’s also probably too early to tell if the Academy’s switch of the awards show to Sunday from Monday two years ago has had much of an effect on the ratings. Sunday was seen as a better alternative because of fewer distractions for viewers and because the day’s viewership levels are generally about 3% higher than Monday’s.

Once again, the length of the show — this year a record-setting 4 hours, 8 minutes — worked against the telecast’s national averages. The Oscars averaged a 30.0 from 8:30 to 11 p.m. EST and a 27.5 from 11 p.m. to its conclusion at 12:38 a.m. The show’s length had less of an impact in the West, where the kudocast began at 5:30 p.m.

Andrea Wong, ABC’s VP of alternative series and specials, said the net was pleased with the ratings.

“We were really happy with the rating, to be second in the last five years is something,” said Wong. ” ‘Titanic’ was such a blockbuster movie and we can’t ex-pect to replicate that, but we’re so pleased … we’re going in the right direction.”

But about the show’s length …

“Yes, we would love for the show to be shorter, but that’s one of the advantages of Sunday,” Wong added. “We love being able to air Barbara Walters and the half-hour preshow and still start at 8:30. People can settle down for the evening.”

Wong said there have been “no discussions to date” regarding a switch to an even earlier starting time.

In the East, the show peaked in rating in the 10 p.m. half-hour with a 31.2 and hit its nadir in the final half-hour (25.6). Among shares, the show grew through-out the evening, beginning with a 41 at 8:30 and closing with a 55 in the final 38 minutes that included the presentation of the top four awards.

Los Angeles (42.7/61) ranked first among Nielsen’s metered markets, though down 3% from last year’s 44.0/64. Chicago (42.3/62) and New York (37.4/52) ranked second and third.

Among the key demo groups, the Oscars were watched most by women 25-54, whose 24.9 rating is up 2% from last year’s 24.3 and the second highest in the last five years. The group that saw the largest gain was women 18-34, up 6% this year to a 19.8 rating, also the second best mark in the last five years.

The other nets offered little in the way of competition on Sunday, with second-place CBS finishing a distant 28 shares behind ABC in homes.

The Oscars now rank as the third highest-rated primetime program of the season in homes, following the Super Bowl on ABC (43.3/63) and the NFC Cham-pionship football game overrun on Fox (30.2/48).

The top-ranked entertainment program of the season is the Feb. 17 episode of NBC’s “ER” (25.0/39).

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