(Adds background on event, streaming options; context on live events ratings)
March 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. television audience for the 90th Academy Awards broadcast on Walt Disney Co's ABC on Sunday dropped nearly 16 percent from last year, preliminary Nielsen data showed on Monday.
The plunge in the early measure suggested total viewership for the film industry's highest honors could come in below the 2008 record low of 32 million, and follows a rating slide in other award shows and sport events this year as viewers turn to streaming options.
The live telecast attracted 18.9 percent of viewers in 56 major markets according to Nielsens preliminary overnight metered market household ratings, an ABC spokesman said.
That compared with 22.4 percent a year ago, when the Oscars audience fell to a nine-year low of 32.9 million viewers. Hollywood trade publication Variety earlier on Monday reported the 18.9 Nielsen rating.
The Nielsen data does not include viewing of the Oscars on digital and mobile platforms. Updated numbers will be released later on Monday.
The Oscars, expected to rank as the most-watched non-sporting event on U.S. television this year, honored romantic fantasy "The Shape of Water" as best picture during a nearly four-hour ceremony where themes of female empowerment and activism almost overshadowed the awards.
Jimmy Kimmel, hosting for a second straight year, built on a socially conscious tone that has defined the night in recent years by skewering sexual misconduct allegations and reports of gender-based pay disparities that have roiled the industry.
The Grammy Awards in January attracted 26.1 million television viewers, its smallest audience since 2006. February's Super Bowl, the most-watched telecast of the year, saw its viewership decline by 7 percent from a year earlier to 103.4 million.
But advertisers still covet live audiences that do not skip commercials, which has been driving commercial pricing higher even as viewership shrinks. ABC owns the broadcast rights for the Oscars through 2028.
ABC sold out its ad inventory for Sunday's Oscars broadcast and charged $2.6 million on average for a 30-second spot, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
That was a jump from the average price of $1.91 million in 2017, according to data from research firm Kantar Media, which said ABC generated $128 million from the 2017 telecast.
ABC offered the live show streaming on abc.com and the ABC app via a participating cable or satellite subscription in certain markets. It was also available on live TV services that stream ABC. (Reporting by Meredith Mazzilli and Lisa Richwine Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Franklin Paul)