NEW YORK -- Confusion over whether Sunday's Academy Awards will be telecast if war breaks out with Iraq has cast doubt on advertisers' grand plans to fill the airwaves with eye-catching ads come Oscar night.
The Oscar telecast, which will be chock full of Hollywood's top stars, typically reaches the second largest television audience of the year after the National Football League's Super Bowl.
ABC, which is due to broadcast the Oscars live on March 23, seemed unsure of whether to air the show as of Tuesday, leaving the decision until later and letting world events dictate the outcome with the blessing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that produces the show.
"If there are world events that warrant coverage on the night of the Academy Awards, ABC News will bring them to the American audience with the full support of the Academy," ABC said in a statement on Tuesday.
For its part, the Academy has said the show is still set for Sunday, but President Bush's 48-hour notice to Saddam Hussein late Monday to leave Iraq or face a military campaign has left it evaluating its decision as events change. In its 75-year history, the Oscars have been delayed only three times, the most recent in 1981 just after President Reagan was shot.
At stake for ABC is one of its most lucrative telecasts. The network fetched between $1.3 million and $1.45 million for a 30-second advertisement from a range of companies that include American Express Co. and PepsiCo Inc.
For advertisers, the show has traditionally been one in which they launch new ad campaigns in a bid to catch the eyes of the huge viewing audience with a large female contingent.
COMMERCIALS MAY BE TOO LIGHT HEARTED IN TIME OF WAR
ABC declined to comment on whether it might modify the telecast with breaks for news reports or a ticker running across the bottom of the screen. ABC is a unit of Walt Disney Co.
One danger advertisers face is that if the ceremony does air after military action has begun, viewers may feel the commercials are too light-hearted, said Seth Siegel, co-founder of product licensing agency The Beanstalk Group.
"The advertising created by the show's sponsors may be out of sync with the national mood," Siegel said.
Insurance company American International Group Inc. has a clause in its contract that lets it pull its commercial from the show if war breaks out, the company said. Whether it will or not was not immediately known.
Some companies are leaving the decision about whether to air commercials to show producers and the network.
General Motors is making a push with commercials for its Cadillac model. The ads, which will also air during the pre-show coverage, are aimed at affluent women.