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Even with strong March numbers, Oscars prefer February

March 25, 2010 |  1:50 pm

You'd think after the five-year ratings high of this year's Oscar telecast, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences might have decided it liked the early March slot.

Oscars It was the Winter Olympics that prompted the move from the end of February, of course, but with an average of 41.3-million people watching this year's telecast -- the most since 42.1-million viewers watched in 2005 -- it could have opted to keep the show there.

No go, says the academy, which announced today it would return to familiar territory and air next year's show Feb. 27.

The move from March to February back in 2004 was initially spurred, in part, by the growing popularity of college hoops' March Madness, which was eating away at audiences. It worked -- the first year the academy tried a February broadcast, the ratings jumped by more than 30%, as an average of 43-million viewers tuned in.

But it turns out the sports soft spot of early March hasn't been entirely unkind -- four years ago, when the show also aired in early March, a respectable 39-million people watched. If ratings slide next year, it may be something the academy could consider -- even if it means the rest of us may feel like long-distance runners suddenly told that a marathon is now 27.2 miles.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Oscar statues. Credit: Amy Sancetta / Associated Press

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