Academy Adds Popular Film Oscar Category in Desperate Ratings Move

Read on: IndieWire.

At the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors meeting on Tuesday night, the 54 governors voted to add a new category to the Oscars. Per tradition, some 7,000 Academy voters, experts in their field, voted in by their colleagues, will weigh in on the best films of the year in 24 categories covering the crafts of moviemaking, from cinematography to sound, as well as the four acting categories, directing, writing, animation, foreign language, documentary, and fiction shorts and features.

But this year there will be one more: Best Popular Film. Bowing to pressure from ABC, which is anxious about ratings for its telecast which will air on February 23, 2019 and, in 2020, will move up to February 9, the earliest date ever, in a bid to jump ahead of multiple rival awards shows. (In the early days of its history, the Oscars were held in May, then moved to April and March, then February.)

The Board also finally succumbed to building pressure to not present live some of the less sexy craft categories, following the lead of other awards shows like the Tonys. No more Sound Mixing and Editing, boys and girls. This also serves to undermine the integrity of these annual global awards, which may be losing relevance as a mainstream shared event, but are still revered by cinephiles around the world.

The Academy’s message to members from CEO Dawn Hudson and re-elected president John Bailey is below:

Dear Member,

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

Clearly, the hope is that adding the “best popular films: to the telecast will improve viewership and build up historically low ratings. But what does popular have to do with best? It’s up to the Academy members to make that determination.

This year, for example, Disney and Marvel’s “Black Panther” has an excellent chance of making it to the Best Picture and many other races. Now we may never know if it had a chance to earn its rightful place at the top of the Hollywood firmament, as it could be sequestered in the meaningless “popular film” category. This is a damn shame.