Oscars post best ratings in five years

Sunday's telecast was seen by 41.3 million viewers

"The Hurt Locker" became the lowest-grossing movie ever to win best picture, but that didn't stop "Avatar" fans from boosting ABC's Oscar telecast to stellar ratings Sunday night.

ABC's presentation of the 82nd Annual Academy Awards continued broadcast TV's winning streak of awards-show ratings, ranking as the most-watched Oscar telecast in five years.

The ceremony was seen by 41.3 million viewers, marking the second straight year of gains.

Given that the Golden Globes, Emmy Awards and Grammy Awards all posted ratings improvements this season, industry analysts expected the Oscars to climb as well -- especially with 10 nominees in the running for best picture, including boxoffice titan "Avatar," and $250 million-plus grossers "The Blind Side" and "Up."

A dispute between ABC's flagship station and Cablevision resulted in the telecast starting 15 minutes late for about 3.3 million viewers in the New York area, with many households doubtless taking longer to realize the channel was back on. Researchers say the confusion and delay should have only minimally affected ABC's ratings.

The five highest-rated markets were Chicago (37.6), West Palm Beach, Fla. (33.3), Boston (33.2), Kansas City (32.8) and San Francisco (31.8). ABC's red carpet preshow drew 25.1 million viewers, its largest audience in three years. The network's Barbara Walters special, announced as the last entry in the veteran annual series, pulled 15 million viewers, the most since 2002.