ABC wins the battle; cable wins the war

The outbreak of war dramatically elevated ratings for the cable news channels last week, while ABC's Academy Awards telecast slipped to a record low in the percentage of the audience tuning in but still lifted that network to its first weekly ratings win since airing the Super Bowl in January, based on viewing estimates issued by Nielsen Media Research.

Given that the Super Bowl was a one-sided rout and the Oscars were affected by the swirl of war coverage, ABC looks like a snake-bitten network this season, even beyond the problems of its own making. Among the latter are most of its mid-season "reality" shows, with "The Family" and "Profiles From the Front Line" having been yanked from the lineup, and "Are You Hot?" and "All American Girl" struggling.

Taken together, last week's audience averages for Fox News Channel (5.6 million), CNN (4.4 million), MSNBC (2.2 million), and CNN Headline News (920,000) would have qualified cable news as the second-most-watched network last week. That said, by way of comparison, their top single offering, Fox News' March 19 coverage of the Iraqi war, would have ranked 38th among prime-time programs, even on a week that saw several network hits in reruns.

The Oscars still exceeded the combined Sunday night audience for CBS, NBC, Fox and the WB. Fox's "American Idol" won a head-to-head matchup with CBS' "Survivor," which moved to Wednesdays because of the NCAA basketball tournament.

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