The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s board of governors approved several changes to the annual Oscars show last night during their meeting Tuesday night in which they re-elected John Bailey to a second term as president. Most important to the world at large: they are making moves to shorten the broadcast and stop live airing below the line categories that bog down the Oscarcast and has led to slumping ratings except in years when big films are up for the top awards, which isn’t often enough.
In the biggest concession the Academy has made since it opened up its membership rosters in the name of diversity after the Oscarssowhite controversy, Oscar will add a trophy for what is essentially the Most Popular Movie. It will have to figure out the criteria, but it is a clear concession that the scant representation of blockbuster movies has put the Academy into a corner.
In a memo to members from Bailey and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson (read it in full below), the changes outlined include creating that new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. In another groundbreaking move, the board voted to limit the length of its annual awards show to three hours. The last Oscarcast clocked in at four hours.
In what might be the move most celebrated by everyone except the below the line guilds, the board also voted to present select categories live in the Dolby Theatre during commercial breaks of the Oscar ceremony, with an edited version of that presentation to air later in the broadcast. Those categories haven’t been determined, but there has been push-back in the past in awards-season shows (not just the Oscars) from below-the-line crafts wary of having their categories nudged off the main broadcast. But the struggle to keep global audiences engaged, clearly forced the board of governor’s collective hand.
Strangely, this is a move that was lobbied for by every Oscarcast producer over the past decade and a half, but the board would barely entertain those suggestions. They were shot down cold, every time, like those producers were asking for more Tweeting accountants. Broadcasts are leadened with below-the-line category award presentations for accomplished pros that Oscar’s global audience is completely unaware of. Those anonymous winners then proceeded to thank loved ones and colleagues who are even more obscure to the world at large, an incredible indulgence to an entertainment broadcast. As a result, Oscar struggles in the ratings ever year, despite the cleverness and best efforts of hosts like Jimmy Kimmel or Hugh Jackman to inject levity and spark into the proceedings. Last Oscar celebrated its 90th anniversary, but it didn’t help. It’s hard to figure out why numbers are down: Kimmel is a nightly Trump critic, which perhaps turns off the Red States. Also, there might have been an expectation of an #MeToo replay from the Golden Globes, which was downright funereal. But the most hotly covered suspenseful aspect was not Best Picture, but whether stars would talk to Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet after an accuser made a last dash press push to shame him.
Ironically, despite the ferocious resistance, the Academy will look like it had a great idea here next Oscarcast. But let’s remember that a lot of next Oscarcast’s ratings bump will be if the billion-dollar ceiling-shattering zeitgeist Marvel movie Black Panther gets nominations, especially if the film is in the mix for Best Picture. Or if it and other blockbusters are celebrated in new categories. There hasn’t been as commercial as Black Panther up for that award since what, Avatar? A big budget movie can win Best Picture and this new Most Popular Film award, whose specifics the Academy is still hammering out. Traditionalists still choking on seeing more than five Best Picture nominees will sneer, but creating a rooting interest among the masses seems worth a try.
The Academy’s board also voted to move the 2020 Oscars, the 92nd edition, from February 23 to February 9.
The next Oscars air Sunday, February 24, 2019.
Last night, the Board of Governors met to elect new board officers, and discuss and approve significant changes to the Oscars telecast.
The Board of Governors, staff, Academy members, and various working groups spent the last several months discussing improvements to the show.
Tonight, the Board approved three key changes:
1. A three-hour Oscars telecast
We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.
To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.
2. New award category
We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.
3. Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars
The date of the 92nd Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.
The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.
We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.
We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.
John Bailey and Dawn Hudson