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Ratings for last week's Academy Awards telecast on ABC dropped from the previous year. Predictably. With no runaway hit at the box office, many potential viewers tuned out.

ABC's broadcast attracted 28.6% of U.S. households and 46% of people watching TV, according to Nielsen Media Research averages for ratings and share. That put this year's show No. 19 in ratings size among Oscar telecasts over the past 25 years, not wonderful news for advertisers who paid a record $1 million for 30 seconds of time.

The insufferably long, four-hour show almost certainly cost ABC viewers. In a telephone survey measuring viewer satisfaction, conducted by researcher Morpace International, viewers gave the show only 5.6 points on a 10 point score for pacing, and a 7.3 overall score. (Commercials were a bust, scoring only 5.4 points for satisfaction.)

The bigger issue was the movie product being honored. All of ABC's hype couldn't make up for the fact that "Saving Private Ryan" was no match for last year's "Titanic" in drawing viewers, particularly younger ones, to the theater or the awards show. "Titanic," the top-grossing film of all time, led the 1998 TV show to a 34.9 rating/55 share (still only No. 5 in ratings for Oscar shows over the past 25 years).

Huge, acclaimed films often do correlate with huge Oscar audiences: "E.T." and "Star Wars," No. 3 and No. 2 at the box office, were followed by the two top-rated Oscars telecasts in the past 25 years. Many other big flicks-"Jurassic Park," "Forrest Gump," "The Lion King," "Jaws"-also have tracked with big nights for the Oscars.

In May 1999, "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Episode 1" arrives in theaters. For Oscar viewers and advertisers, that could be just the ticket for 2000.

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