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Why the Oscars have become more important even as viewership has shrunk

But, with apologies to ABC’s ad sales department, it doesn’t matter all that much. Ratings for everything have been falling for years. Yes, the most watched Oscars telecast, 1998, had 55 million viewers (runner-up, 1983 with 50 million), but in 1998, 76 million watched the (monumentally disappointing) “Seinfeld” finale, and top-rated series (including, yes, it’s true, “Veronica’s Closet”) regularly pulled in close to 25 million viewers. In the new TV landscape, no top show breaks 20 million; “Mad Men” changed the world and never hit four.