Oscar Smiles on Disney - TheStreet

Who wants to be an Oscar winner? If you're affiliated with a

Walt Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

movie this year, your odds have just increased.

The studio emerged with the most

Academy Award

nominations Tuesday, garnering its most nods ever.

The nominations could cement the company's lead in market share among the major studios; the company has captured 30% of the market so far this year.

Three Disney releases nabbed spots in the Best Picture category -- the blockbuster thriller

The Sixth Sense

, surprise nominee

The Cider House Rules

and the critically acclaimed box office dud

The Insider

.

"We are extremely pleased," said Disney spokeswoman Christine Castro. "It clearly demonstrates the creative strength of

Walt Disney Studios

."

Christopher Dixon, media analyst at

PaineWebber

, said in a note Monday that he expected the Oscar nominations to give 1999 holiday releases a boost at the box office over the next several weeks. Historically, winning a Bet Picture Oscar has increased worldwide studio revenues by an average of $150 million, according to trade publication

Variety

.

The Sixth Sense

is already one of last year's biggest hits, so its six nominations will likely have little effect on its box office prospects.

The Cider House Rules

, however, could receive a significant bump from its strong showing. The film, released in late December by Disney subsidiary

Miramax Films

(which has made a habit of grabbing Oscar nominations for its films in recent years), has grossed more than $20 million in limited release. The nominations it garnered could increase both the number of theaters which it is screened and its total gross, perhaps by as much as $10 million-$20 million, according to

Variety

.

The Insider

could also get a big push from its Oscar showing. The little-seen thriller, released through Disney's

Buena Vista

division, has grossed a mere $27 million since its release in November, but its seven nominations could help resuscitate the film in the six weeks between now and the Academy Awards ceremony on March 26.

Both

The Insider

and

The Cider House Rules

trailed closely held

Dreamworks SKG's

American Beauty

, which led all comers with eight nominations.

The Oscar nominations cap what has been an excellent few months for Disney. The entertainment giant's

ABC

has pulled into the ratings lead among the major networks, powered by its game show hit

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

, and many analysts forecast that the network will win the ratings race for the season. ABC will also get an added benefit from the Oscar telecast, which typically draws the second-largest television audience of any program every year, behind only the

Super Bowl

.

And who broadcast the Super Bowl this year? ABC.

In the fourth quarter, Disney

beat analysts' forecasts, mostly on the strength of

Millionaire

.

ABC has also reportedly paid out more than $50 million for the broadcast rights to a package of films that includes the

Time Warner

(TWX)

release

The Green Mile

, which also picked up a Best Picture nomination Tuesday. The network, which also has the broadcast rights to

The Sixth Sense

, will show both films in 2002.

In a huge company like Disney, individual releases typically have little effect on the overall bottom line, said Rich MacDonald, analyst at

J.P. Morgan

. "Disney is so big that it makes it hard for one movie to move the needle," said MacDonald, who rates Disney a buy. J.P. Morgan has done investment banking for Disney in the last three years.

Indeed, investors were not moved by Disney's strong presence in Oscar nominations. The company's shares were down 15/16, or 3%, to 36 1/16 in Tuesday morning trading. (Disney closed up 1/16, or 0.17%, at 37 1/16.)

But the company's strong showing at the box office and in living rooms is a good sign. "I think that creatively, they're really strong right now," MacDonald said, adding that

Millionaire

has had a much bigger effect than any of the company's film releases because it has nearly single-handedly reversed the fortunes of the entire ABC network.

MacDonald didn't dismiss the Oscar nominations completely, though. "It's better than a sharp stick in the eye."