If rumors coming out of last night’s board meeting of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are true, there is a movement afoot to relocate the Academy Awards from their current home at the end of February to a month earlier at the end of January.
Deadline is reporting that the move is being contemplated as a way to shorten the award season as a whole and specifically the period of time spent campaigning for the Academy Awards, in which studios spend large amounts of advertising dollars to get voting Academy members to pick their product for an Oscar.
A potential move of the Academy Awards to January would position the awards show in advance of some of the major guild awards and the Golden Globes, all of which have traditionally been seen as the warm-up to the Oscars. The Director’s Guild of America has already staked out January 29th as the date for their awards ceremony and the Screen Actors Guild is holding their event the following day. The Golden Globes are penciled on to the calendar for February 13. This would certainly put a crimp in the plans of those who use the various guild awards as an indicator of who was a frontrunner to win the corresponding Academy Award categories. (Example – Since it was first handed out in 1948, only six winners of the Director’s Guild Award for Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film have failed to go on to receive the Best Director Oscar.) This could affect everyone who uses those indicators from Vegas odds makers to those who want to win their office Oscar pool to professional prognosticators.
But is moving the Academy Awards forward really a good idea?
It would definitely achieve the rumored goal of cutting down the amount of time and money in which studios would have to spend on their Oscar campaigns. But much of that money is spent in advertisements in the two major trade dailies -Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. So much money, in fact, that the Academy Awards advertising brings in a significant part of each paper’s yearly revenue. In a time when both trades are seeing income falling, I don’t think they are welcoming this proposal with open arms.
However, there could be another reason for the move going unsaid – As a possible way to secure the ceremony’s position as the top rated awards show of its kind. Through the 1990s and the early part of this past decade, the Oscar telecast has been watched by an audience in the low to mid-40 millions each year. However that number dipped to the mid-30 millions between 2006 and 2009.
The Academy has moved around the date for the show in the past as a way of increasing the ratings of its live telecast. In 2004, the show was migrated from March to February in an attempt to avoid what the Academy perceived as “awards fatigue” in the potential television audience, as well as the NCAA College Basketball Championships. The result was an extra 10 million viewers, though the runaway win of Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King may have brought out many of those people.
Other attempts to restructure aspects of the Awards ceremony with an eye towards increasing viewership have also been met with varying, though never overwhelming, degrees of success. This past year’s increase of Best Picture nominees from five to ten did little to attract the curious, though that might be more due to Avatar‘s expected dominance at the awards more than anything else. Viewership was only up 12 per cent.
And if the Academy’s prime concern is in fact their television ratings, than I think that they’re barking up the wrong tree. I don’t think that there is anything that will give a big boost to the Oscar telecast ratings. Surely the Academy realizes that television has changed in the last three decades and people don’t have just three or four channels to pick from anymore. People who may have watched the Oscars years ago because it was the best or most interesting thing available to watch now have dozens of choices that may cater more directly to their interests, be it sports, news or even actual movies. I think that, at least for now, the Academy Awards has reached a level viewing audience and no amount fiddling with the formula will change that.