The decision to move the Academy Awards up one month so that the telecast would air in the February sweeps ratings period turned out to be a good one for ABC. Sunday night's Oscar show drew an estimated audience of 43.5 million viewers, up 31 percent from the telecast's all-time low of 33.1 million last year.
Those ratings, based on preliminary overnight figures released yesterday by Nielsen Media Research, are the highest since the Oscar telecast of 2000 that was viewed by 46.3 million.
What matters most for ABC and the motion picture academy is that they have brought an end to an alarming decline in viewers - a 40 percent audience loss the past five years. (Though it should be noted that last year's telecast aired four days after the start of the war in Iraq - a fact that surely contributed to the low ratings.)
The final figures won't be released until later in the week, but they should once again establish the Oscar telecast as the highest rated entertainment program of the year, second only to the Super Bowl. Nielsen estimates that about 73 million viewers tuned in at some point Sunday night for the Oscar telecast, compared with 89.6 million for the Super Bowl.