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Oscars Ceremony Changes Coming -- Is This a 'New Coke' Moment for the Academy?

Posted on Thursday, August 9th, 2018 6:16 PM and updated on Wednesday, August 15th, 2018 11:55 AM

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Changes are coming to the Academy Awards ceremony (better known as "the Oscars") presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The following changes were announced by the Academy on August 8, 2018:

  • A new category is being designed around achievement in popular film.
  • We've set an earlier airdate for 2020: mark your calendars for February 9.
  • We're planning a more globally accessible, three-hour telecast.

I'm sure that the Academy thought that these changes were a good thing, and that they would be welcomed as a way of addressing the disconnect that has existed in the past several years, as public interest in the ceremony has waned and the show's ratings have declined.

Coca Cola probably thought that New Coke was a good idea, too. The public reacted very differently, however.

This seems to be the case as well, given the near-instant reaction that has been swirling around since the announcement. That reaction is centering around the addition of a new category for "popular films." The Variety article below quotes some tweets from those in the industry as well as industry watchers that weighed in on the "most popular" award category.

Is the "popular movies" category addition a good idea?

The details aren't released yet (and it sounds like they haven't figured them out yet), so I'm going to reserve judgement until that time, but my general feeling is that it will create more problems than they intend for it to solve.

The details are going to be everything when it comes to the success or failure of this addition. What constitutes a "popular" movie? Is it worldwide box office receipts? Is it tickets sold? Number of weeks in the Top 10 Box Office report? So many questions...

The most obvious way to determine the popularity of a movie is to look at box office receipts. However, for a movie that gets released in December (especially at the end of December), it's trip through theaters has just begun. For example, The Greatest Showman opened December 20, 2017. By the end of the year, it had amassed a U.S. box office total of just $49M. It went on to stay in the Top 10 for eleven weeks and earned neary $165M in the U.S. in its final weekend in the Top 10, and totaled almost $435M worldwide.

How would the Academy treat that movie in respect to this new category? If they use box office as a measure, studios that want a horse in that race will need to avoid the end of the year in order to qualify. For Greatest Showman's eleven-week run, that means that they would have had to release that movie in early to mid-October so that the majority of their box office receipts would count. What would that do to the month of December, which has seen the release of "popular" movies such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi (which did earn most of its money before the end of the year)? Certainly, this year's December releases like Aquaman and Bumblebee would like a shot at getting a shout-out at the Oscars and bringing home a trophy, but not if total box office is going to be the qualifier, because they aren't going to have time to earn enough money to compete with the likes of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, just to name a few of the top-earning movies so far this year.

Would I like to see mainstream movies recognized for their contributions and achievements? If they deserve that recognition, yes. But as quite a few detractors have pointed out, the mountain of cash blockbusters earn can be its own reward.

This is a solution that won't fix the core problem. There is a disconnect between the movies that the Academy rewards with the movies that audiences actually watch. There are times when the two elements of that Venn diagram meet, and people can cheer for a mainstream movie that was nominated and has a chance of winning.

There are many times when a mainstream (blockbuster) movie was pretty good, but got snubbed by voters. The most recent and egregious example of this is The Dark Knight from 2008. Christopher Nolan's Batman movie is widely regarded as a very good movie. It received eight nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for the late Heath Ledger, but no recognition for Best Picture or Best Director. Would this new category have given the movie the recognition it deserved? Not if it's viewed as a second-class award. Far better for the movie to be the example of how the Academy might have snubbed a great movie just because it made a lot of money and a lot of people saw it. (Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture that year)

Moving Up the Ceremony Date

I have no disagreement with this choice whatsoever. Why let all the other award shows (Golden Globes, etc.) take the attention, leaving the Oscars talking at the end of February about movies audiences don't even remember were in theaters? Strike while the iron is hot, I say.

Shorter Telecast

This change is going to be interesting to see play out. They want to move some of the less popular categories into being presented during commercial breaks in the TV broadcast, with highlights shown after the commercial. While this would likely shorten the duration of the show, how would you feel if you were given an award but your family at home that supported you to get where you are didn't see the full presentation of your award? How long before those categories get shuffled to the "Science and Technical Awards" presentation that happens and isn't given more than 30 seconds of air time?

How about reducing the song and dance numbers? How about cutting the monologue to five minutes, tops? How about getting rid of the thank you's altogether? Maybe a text-crawl along the bottom while they are walking up to the stage with the prepared text of the people they want to thank? At the very least, keep people from thanking their agents, lawyers, etc.

I can imagine putting together the award ceremony is an incredible challenge. It's always a balancing act and there will always be detractors and armchair quarterbacks. It's a good thing these people are professionals that are being paid for their expertise!

The 2019 Academy Awards Ceremony will be televised on ABC February 24, 2019.

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