05/23/2001 11:00PM

Preakness ratings up 56 percent

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NBC-TV's telecast of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday received a final

Nielsen rating of 5.6, a 56 percent increase over the final rating for

last year's broadcast on ABC-TV and tied for the highest rating since 1992.

In total, the Preakness broadcast was watched in 2 million more

households this year than last year, when ABC's broadcast received a 3.6

rating. Each rating point represents approximately 1.02 million households.

Share for the 90-minute broadcast was 16, up 60 percent compared to last

year's share of 10. Share represents the percentage of television sets

in use that were tuned to the broadcast at the time.

Ratings points for horseracing broadcasts and all other sports have been

in a steady freefall for several years. Television executives have

blamed the growing segmentation of television viewers due to the

continuing proliferation of new channels.

To boost ratings, NBC pushed back the traditional starting time of the

Preakness broadcast by a half hour in order to move the race into

prime-time, and the network eliminated any competition between the

Preakness telecast and its coverage of the NBA playoffs.

"It just bears out the point that if you put two championship events up

against each other, you're going to split the audience," said Cameron

Blanchard, a spokeswoman for NBC.

The broadcast peaked during the last 39 minutes, which included the live

race and post-race coverage. The segment beginning at 6:00 p.m. received

a 6.4 national rating, also a 56 percent increase over last year.

NBC purchased the broadcast rights to the three races of the Triple

Crown for the next five years for $51.5 million. Executives had

predicted that they could improve ratings in the first year by 20 percent.