The Academy Awards is facing a major shake-up to fend off shrinking television ratings and a fear of becoming irrelevant.
Next year’s 91st Oscars will face a three hour time limit and a new category for most “Popular” film -but it is already copping some backlash.
“We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world,” president John Bailey and its CEO Dawn Hudson wrote in a note to members. “The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.”
They added, “We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.”
To rein in at three hours, some awards will be handed out during commercial breaks, with moments edited and aired later in the broadcast. That’s a move the Tony Awards has embraced.
Organisers will introduce a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film, but the criteria is yet to be stated. Films can be nominated for both outstanding achievement in popular film and for the Academy Award for best picture.
Variety reports the 26.6 million viewers averaged by the 2018 Oscars, according to Nielsen live-plus-same day numbers, represented a 19% decline from 2017, and 39% drop from the show’s recent peak in 2014. Numbers for younger viewers were even worse. Ratings in the 18-49 demo fell 24% from 2017 and 47% from 2014. The 18-34 demo was down 29% from 2017 and 56% from 2014.
Other awards shows, such as the Emmys and Grammys, have also faced recent ratings declines, but none nearly so steep.
But the changes are already attracting criticism. As one columnist notes, “This is the worst of these ham-fisted maneuvers because it’s such a condescending stance toward popular cinema to take at a time when the Academy is making as many moves as possible to open the gates to all forms of cinema (i.e., waving in a thousand new members, being aggressively proactive on diversity in the voting ranks, etc.). It’s a stiff backhand to those efforts, in fact, because it outright states that popular films need to be ghettoized.”
Over its 90 year history, the Oscars has alway seen change. In 2009 it expanded the Best Picture from five to a possible 10 nominees in a bid to remain broadly relevant.