Because the clock was ticking and there were still massive logistical questions involved, the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences this week tabled the idea of moving the Oscarcast a month earlier into January 2012. But they have given themselves the option of revisting the idea for 2013 or beyond. This is a radical proposal because it might have triggered, at the very least, a new way of judging and voting on Oscars. But the Academy could take back some of the real estate it has lost to other awards shows trying to encroach on its turf. So let’s look at the pros and the cons of moving up the Academy Awards, and my even more radical solution than the Board ever considered.
WITH AN EARLIER OSCAR SHOW THE RATINGS WILL GO UP
PRO: The Oscar show will seem fresher and the nominees not as battle weary if it takes place a month earlier. That could mean increased ratings, even if the ceremony moves out of February sweeps and into the late January viewing doldrums. After all, viewers might feel more engaged if they haven’t seen it all already.
CON: The ratings for Oscars usually increase when the public has a vested interest in the movies, or at least some of the movies. The highest rated shows of the last 10 years were in 2004 when Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King won 11 Oscars including Best Picture, and in 2001 when another blockbuster Gladiator took the top prize. The lowest rated was 2008 when little sampled winner No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood were battling it out. With a month’s less time for potential viewers to catch up on their moviegoing, they may be less interested in the outcome and ratings could go down. Certainly box office for nominees could be severely affected, too.
AN EARLIER SHOW WILL PUSH OSCAR’S IMITATORS OUT OF CONTENTION
PRO: One of the key reasons the Board wanted to do this is to deal a crushing blow to their competition — all those other awards shows that feed off interest in the Oscars including the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Movie Awards, the Indie Spirits, SAG awards, People’s Choice, and on and on. Moving up the granddaddy of all these events will force them out of the game or into less desirable time slots. It would also make the Academy Awards seem fresher as the public won’t feel such a sense of déjà vu in seeing the same nominees week after week for the long 2 months until Oscar finally shows up. Going earlier would also give these groups and critics organizations less clout and less chance to try to influence Academy voting patterns and thinking. It might give the Academy a better set of contenders.
CON: Are you kidding? Awards season is money, honey. None of these shows are likely to just fade away and in fact they’ll just move earlier into the holiday month of December if they have to in order to keep the same position they are in now. The Globes is such a cash cow for NBC that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (a misnomer, if ever there were one) would move to Halloween or even Labor Day.
AN EARLIER SHOW WOULD MEAN LESS CAMPAIGN BURNOUT
PRO: The Oscars now happen at the end of February, almost a full three months from the time the first critics organization The National Board Of Review announces its winners. That’s a loooooong time to maintain interest in the race. Cutting a month would lessen awards fatigue and make Oscar all that much fresher and more appealing.
CON: The Oscars are the king. They are the most important show business award. Turning them into a rush to judgment because the Academy is worried people won’t tune in on a later date isn’t really borne out by the facts. Since 2004, when the Oscars moved a month earlier from their previous traditional spot at the end of March, nothing has matched the numbers and audience interest of some of those later shows. The most-viewed Oscar show in at least the last 30 years was 1997 when Titanic won, and that show didn’t air until March 23rd. Proving that if you give audiences what they want, they will come. The answer for viewers would not seem to be an earlier date, but more popular pictures competing.
AN EARLIER SHOW COULD BE BENEFICIAL FOR STUDIO BLOCKBUSTERS
PRO: Yes, the earlier date certainly would favor bigger and therefore more widely seen movies, and that would please the major studios who have been frustrated in recent years by the strong indie presence at the Oscars. But, with less time to build momentum from all its critical wins, The Hurt Locker would have remained in Avatar’s shadow last year instead of overtaking it sometime between its loss at the Golden Globes and its big win on Academy Awards night. Oscar races are about momentum. By shortening the window, you cut the big mo for indie party crashers like, well, Crash.
CON: Indie films need all the help they can get and that includes box office attention for all their Oscar nods. A shorter time to display those accolades means earlier B.O. death, not a healthy thing for the business. Avatar doesn’t need Oscar whereas movies like No Country For Old Men do. And the more time they have to milk the awards attention, the better for everyone.
AN EARLIER SHOW WILL ENCOURAGE VOTERS TO GET OUT AND SEE THE MOVIES MORE QUICKLY
PRO: If you are an Oscar voter, you might be more inclined to try to get out to screenings all year round if you know there is less time to see everything. This year, for instance, only two or three movies will be unavailable to be seen by most voters before December. It might encourage members not to wait — since that year-end pile of screeners is daunting. The new date might even mean the Academy will work overtime to find new ways of getting movies seen by the membership.
CON: The worst thing to come out of this whole discussion was the suggestion that the Academy enter into some sort of online program whereby members could download movies and watch them on their computer . Seeing any film, much less big blockbuster movies, on a laptop is a disaster. How do you judge sound or cinematography that way? The Academy has always stood for the “art and science” of film and encouraged seeing movies the way they should be – on the big screen (even though we know a majority watch them on screeners). Rushing the process might damage that message and give a black eye to the Academy. The larger question remains: how do you get everyone to see these movies? Less time isn’t likely to be the answer.
VOTING COULD BE DONE MORE EFFICIENTLY
PRO: Like other organizations do, voting could be done online, thus eliminating the need for paper ballots and speeding up the process.
CON: The Academy’s current airtight system of balloting could become a prime target for hackers and the Mark Zuckerberg-wannabes.
STUDIOS MIGHT BE ENCOURAGED TO RELEASE QUALITY MOVIES YEAR ROUND
PRO: Instead of focusing on the narrow Fall window to release their so-called “Academy movies”, an earlier Oscar date almost certainly would encourage studios and distributors to release better films earlier in the year and that is a very good thing. Spread the wealth.
CON: There isn’t one to this idea except that the studios rarely do what we think they should.
OSCAR CAMPAIGNING WOULD BE SHORTENED
PRO: A shorter season means less Oscar campaigning, less wear and tear on contenders hitting the circuit, and more integrity for the process.
CON: Again, Oscar means money and there is a whole cottage industry that depends on advertising during Oscar season. A shorter campaign window means severely diminished dollars for, say, media like Deadline where I work. (Hint.)
THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM PROCESS MIGHT HAVE TO BE CHANGED.
PRO: An earlier Oscars would definitely have an impact on how the Academy runs the unwieldy foreign language film process. This could force a rethinking of the whole way it’s done — beginning with the way each country picks its contenders, to the months-long process of viewing and voting on them at the Academy.
CON: There is no question the Foreign Film race would be affected. Rushing this complicated process could be a disaster and cause even more controversy than is usual for this beleaguered category.
IF YOU’RE GOING TO MOVE UP THE OSCARS, THEN MOVE THEM UP BY A LOT
PRO: The Academy is walking the tightrope between maintaining the time honored integrity of the Academy Award process and insuring its future. The key is getting Oscar back to a place where it once stood alone and not just above the fray. But how do you do that in this era? Times have changed, and the Academy has to change with it. Moving Oscars a month earlier into January is a pretty radical proposition. The Oscars have NEVER been held in that month in its 83-year history. Never. Between 1942 and 2004 they only took place in March or April. But three times before then, the Academy Awards were held in November. So mine is not such a radical suggestion to the Academy. Instead, the Oscars would return to the model used when they first began — when they were not presented according to a calendar year but rather over parts of two different years with eligibility generally August 1st to July 31st. This was done for 1927-1928, 1928-1929, etc. And, for three years between 1929-1930, 1930-1931, and 1931-1932, the Oscars were held in November. By changing current eligibility dates back to that original design by the early Academy architects, the show could return to its roots and air with no competing award shows anywhere sight. Plus, it is a major ratings sweep period and a very important part of the TV season. It could also serve as a great advertising platform for the important holiday movie season which starts at that same time. It might also force select Academy voters to think on their own again without any outside influences from critics groups which are likely to stick to the old calendar year system. (The Academy is made up of people who make movies for a living. They know better than most critics what constitutes an Oscar-worthy achievement.) Most importantly, this is part of the Academy’s DNA and purists (like me) will like that. Indeed,a key argument favoring last year’s controversial expansion from five to 10 Best Picture nominees was that it had been done during the Academy’s storied history of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Is this really that radical a change anyway? The Emmys don’t follow a calendar year for eligibility and cover TV shows airing June to May. Neither do the Grammys (which cover September to September) or the Tonys (May to April). In fact, of the four major show business awards, the Oscars are the only one sticking to the staid old boring calendar year. Yawn. If you really want to go earlier Oscar, go earlier! Take it back.
CON: This wasn’t the Academy’s idea. But it’s For Your Consideration.