Whether or not ''Chicago,'' ''Gangs of New York,'' or ''The Hours'' takes home the most tropies on Oscar night, the big winner is sure to be ABC. Variety reports that the network scored a record take of $78.3 million for commercial time during the March 23 telecast. The price of the average 30-second ad during the Academy Awards rose about 5 percent, to $1.35 million.
Unlike commercial time on regular programming, ABC doesn't guarantee advertisers a minimum audience for the Oscar show, which is typically the second most-watched broadcast of the year, after the Super Bowl. Ratings may be particularly low this year, as relatively few viewers have seen three of the five Best Picture nominees (''Gangs,'' ''Hours,'' and ''The Pianist''), and the possibility of war may make the glitzy red carpet spectacle seem overly frivolous.
On the other hand, in the event of war, viewers will want escapism as well as news. ''They'll also want entertainment, but warm, fuzzy, family kind of programming, not hard-edged realism,'' president Mel Burning of ad buyer Mediavest tells Variety. Burning also said that advertisers will likely avoid commercials that are funny or irreverent. ''You might see some patriotic, flag-waving spots produced for the telecast,'' he said. Which means that, for funny and irreverent, we'll have to depend on Oscar host Steve Martin.