05/23/2001 11:00PM

Preakness ratings up 56 percent

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NEW YORK - NBC'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 and tied for the highest rating since 1992.

In total, the 90-minute Preakness broadcast was watched in 2 million more households this year than last, when ABC's broadcast received a 3.6 rating. Each rating point represents approximately 1.02 million households.

The share for the 90-minute broadcast was 16, up 60 percent over last year's share of 10. Share represents the percentage of television sets in use that were tuned to the broadcast.

Ratings points for horse racing broadcasts and nearly all other sports have been in a steady decline for several years.

To improve ratings, NBC pushed back the traditional starting time of the Preakness broadcast by a half-hour in order to move the race into weekend 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 Preakness broadcast peaked during the last half-hour, which included the live race and post-race coverage. The segment beginning at 6 p.m. received a 7.2 national rating and a 19 share.

NBC purchased the broadcast rights to the three races of the Triple Crown for five years beginning in 2001 for $51.5 million. Network executives had predicted that they could improve ratings in the first year by 20 percent.