EXCLUSIVE: So that’s another 6 years for the longstanding and sought-after Academy Awards telecast deal between ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The extension will keep the Oscars on ABC through 2020. The most recent extension between ABC and the Academy, signed in 2005, was set to expire in 2014.

The Academy Awards have aired on ABC continuously since 1976 and, as the network doesn’t carry NFL football, the Oscar telecast ranks as the network’s highest-rated program of the year. Last year’s ceremony drew 41.3 million viewers, its largest audience since 2005.

NBC first televised the Academy Awards from 1953 to 1960, followed by ABC, which took over for a decade. After going back to NBC for a five-year run, the Oscars settled in their permanent network home at ABC in 1976.

The news of the new Oscar deal comes 3 days before the 83rd Academy Awards, which will air Sunday on ABC.

UPDATE: ABC just put a release announcing the six-year Oscar telecast agreement extension with the Academy:

The ABC Television Network’s contract to carry the annual Academy Awards presentations has been extended for six more years, though 2020, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak and Anne Sweeney, President of the Disney/ABC Television Group, announced today.

“This contract ensures that the Oscar show will be an ABC tradition for 45 consecutive years,” said Sherak. “ABC is absolutely the very best place for the Academy Awards, a television event that is beloved and watched by millions of movie lovers all over the world.”

“ABC has been home to the Oscars for many years, having aired a total of 46 of the annual telecasts, so we’re thrilled to announce that this tradition will continue,” said Sweeney. “During that time, we’ve enjoyed a tremendous partnership with the Academy, pairing the best in movies with the best in television, and look forward to a long and successful collaboration in the years to come.”

Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis added: “The Oscars remain the most-watched non-sports program in America, and we’re delighted that ABC will continue to be the setting for that jewel. The network has consistently demonstrated an understanding of what makes us unique, and has energetically supported those qualities.”

The new agreement for the domestic broadcasts of the Academy Awards adds six years to the existing contract, which was scheduled to expire in 2014. International rights are covered by a separate agreement with Walt Disney International that runs through 2014.

The 83rd Academy Awards, which will air live on Sunday, February 27, will be the 36th consecutive ceremony to air on ABC.