Oscarcast tops '06 but misses 40 mil mark

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NEW YORK -- Sunday night's Academy Awards telecast delivered so-so ratings for ABC, ahead of last year's abysmal numbers but failing to crack the 40 million-viewer mark as it has three of the past six years.

The telecast averaged 39.9 million viewers, according to preliminary data released Monday by Nielsen Media Research. That was 3% more than the 38.9 million who tuned in last year and essentially flat in adults 18-49 -- a 14.0 this year compared with a 13.9 a year ago -- but up in such other key measures as women 18-34 and women 18-49.

ABC said Monday that the Oscarcast was up 8% to a 12.9 rating in adults 18-34, the highest rating in that demo in five years.

Sunday still was well above the low point of 2003, when only 33 million viewers tuned in during the early days of the Iraq War. The high-water mark of the past five years was 2004, when 43.5 million people watched.

The telecast, which ran from 8:30 p.m. to after midnight EST, was still far and away the top awards show so far this season. It easily topped the 20.1 million viewers who tuned in to see the Grammys on CBS and the 20 million who watched the Golden Globes on NBC. The Primetime Emmys logged an average 16.2 million viewers Aug. 27.

ABC easily won the night in all major categories, though the final margin of victory won't be determined until Nielsen Media Research releases the final ratings today. Non-time-zone-adjusted ratings released Monday gave a big win to Sunday's "Barbara Walters Special" featuring interviews of Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Hudson, Helen Mirren and Eddie Murphy. It averaged 19.7 million viewers and a 6 rating/16 share in adults 18-49, far above its closest competitor -- Fox's coverage of NASCAR's Nextel Cup race at California Speedway. (12 million, 4.8/13).

On the other networks, "The Amazing Race" on CBS and "Grease: You're the One That I Want" were both down week-over-week.
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