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Oscars Draw Big Numbers, Though Not as Big as Hoped

March 23, 1999|BRIAN LOWRY

Ratings for the Academy Awards buckled a bit under the weight of the show's four-hour-plus length but were nevertheless sizable, based on audience estimates released Monday.

Preliminary results from ABC and Nielsen Media Research show that about 45.6 million people viewed an average minute of Sunday's telecast. That audience reflects a 17% drop from last year--when the Oscars sailed to their biggest rating in more than a decade on the wave of interest created by best picture winner "Titanic"--but marks a sharp improvement over 1997, more in line with results from 1992 through '96.

ABC had hoped that an earlier start time and the shift to Sunday night--when viewing levels tend to be higher--would allow the awards to conclude sooner and boost ratings; however, the presentation still ran until after 12:30 a.m. on the East Coast, and overall ratings dropped considerably from the program's peak to the final half-hour.

Although the average audience was slightly lower than what ABC drew for its recent interview with Monica Lewinsky, the network was still pleased, estimating that 78 million people watched at least a portion of the broadcast.

"The advertisers got their money's worth," said Larry Hyams, ABC's vice president of audience analysis.

Among 44 major U.S. cities monitored by Nielsen, the program drew its highest rating in the Los Angeles area, with 2.2 million households tuning in during the ceremony--44% of homes in the market. KABC also enjoyed the biggest local audience for its pre-Oscar coverage, as 610,000 homes viewed the ABC station from 3:30 to 5 p.m., more than twice the number watching KTLA-TV.

Ratings weren't available for the arrivals show on E! Entertainment Television, where host Joan Rivers complained on air about ABC hogging access to stars. Competing red-carpet coverage was terminated at 5 p.m. this year so that ABC could offer an exclusive preview show.

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