To boost ratings the broadcast will sport a new category. No One is happy
There was quite an outcry in the film journalism universe as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences declared there would be stark changes to the its annual Oscars telecast. The effort is to truncate the Academy ceremony — something that is annually mentioned, and annually failed at accomplishing. Also, a new “Best Movie” category will be created, and most are enraged by this announcement.
Going forward the Academy will have a new trophy to award for “Outstanding Achievement In Popular Film”. (You’d be excused for asking if this springs off of Hillary winning the popular vote in 2016.) If the concept of adding a whole new film category while desiring to shorten the show sounds counter productive, they will address that too. The technical awards will be handed out during commercial breaks, the winners shown later during a montage late in the broadcast.
Looking over the wave of reactions, I have yet to see anyone saying something positive about these changes. The new category, for popcorn films, has angered many a film journalist. Over the past generation numerous mainstream hits have been bypassed for more “serious” films. (A rare exception was “The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King” nearly sweeping the Oscars in 2004.)
The furor peaked when “The Dark Knight” was nominated in eight categories in 2008, yet the movie itself, and director Christopher Nolan, were blatantly excluded. Last year in similar fashion the beloved “Wonder Woman” was completely ignored. Following that Batman outcry the Academy broadened its qualifications, and depending on the nominating votes received — and the Academy’s byzantine tabulation process — up to 10 titles could make the final list in a given year.
There are very clear indicators why there was a need felt to make dramatic changes. The 2018 telecast hit an all-time low for ratings. Overall it lost 6 million viewers from the prior year, a -19% drop, and a staggering -25% drop in the key demographic. And those 2017 numbers were already low, as the telecast has been in consistent freefall. The past 5 shows saw the trophy ceremony shedding -40% of its audience.
- 2014 – 43.7 million
- 2015 – 37.3 million
- 2016 – 34.4 million
- 2017 – 32.9 million
- 2018 – 26.5 million
The Academy sees this as an issue of the base aging out, and not the rampant political lecturing many of the past broadcasts have become. It has attempted to curry interest in the next generation of viewers, but they have yet to arrive. As for the movie purists these moves are sacrilege, and there are sound reasons.
The category expansion has diluted things in the quest for excellence. That first year of broader standards saw a number of normally bypassed titles included — the animated “Up”, the Tom Hanks light comedy “Up In The Air”, as well as the robotic dystopia “District 9” and James Cameron’s virtual cartoon “Avatar” all received nominations. The wider field probably contributed to the lightly regarded “The Hurt Locker” winning, standing as the lowest-grossing Oscar winner ever.
Only occasionally has this wider field delivered a wildly popular title to the finals; a “Toy Story 3” here, “American Sniper” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” there. The closest you could say to a “popular” title netting the win would be “Argo”, in 2012. But rather than appearing to be more inclusive, the new Academy category seems to only muddle the affair.
For starters, what are the qualifications going to be for what qualifies as a “popular film”? Is it based on box office performance, size of the theater release, or possibly the studio choosing the designation? I also wonder if the category will also be open to the same wide field, because we could conceivably be facing 20 titles nominated. How much weight will be placed on one Best Picture Winner over the other? This may become like the Cannes Film Festival, where given years they have had as many as three movies declared “winners”.
The biggest concern for many is that this does not actually “solve” the problem of overlooking worthy films, but excluding them from the “important” category. Currently “Black Panther” – this year’s “Wonder Woman” – is a hoped-for Best Picture contender. If it is placed in the “popular” list that would be considered eating at the kid’s table, and not legitimate…unless it is argued as being equivalent to the standard Best Picture, which means THAT category is diminished.
What is clear is that while looking to fix the issue of audience flight the main issue driving off hordes is not addressed. It may not even be addressable. Asking a large segment of the country to sit for hours while the privileged-set lectures them how their views are wrong and hateful is kind of, sort of, maybe, possibly the opposite of engendering your product to them.
Fixing this of course would involve the performers focusing on the movies, and refraining from spewing out their invective. We all know this is a largely impossible task to ask of them. So, jiggering with the traditions and manipulating the proceedings may be the only other option.
The NFL could not rein in their players from activism, so the league is resorting to male cheerleaders. The Academy altering its ceremony is at least a more sane attempt at a fix.