The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is instituting sweeping changes to the Oscar broadcast as it tries to find ways to bolster ratings for the flagging telecast.
In a message to its membership, the group’s president John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson said the broadcast will now include a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film.
The organisation’s initial announcement raised more questions than it answered.
The Academy later issued a statement clarifying eligibility concerns. Films can be nominated for both Academy Award for best picture and for outstanding achievement in popular film, with the new category to be introduced this coming year.
At one point in its history, Oscar voters routinely named blockbusters such as Titanic or Gladiator as the year’s best.
But recent best picture victors such as Moonlight, Spotlight, and the 2018 winner The Shape of Water have been firmly ensconced in the art-house world, whereas well-reviewed hit films such as Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars: The Force Awakens have only been recognised for their technical achievements.
“We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world,” Bailey and Hudson wrote in a note to members.
“The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.”
The Oscar broadcast has also been slagged as a tedious affair, filled with speeches, musical performances, and montages. To that end, the Academy’s board announced that future broadcasts will be three hours long.
The 2018 awards show, which clocked in at almost four hours, was the least-watched Oscars to date. Though it pulled in a sizeable 26.5 million viewers, the ratings were down 19 per cent compared to the previous year.
To accommodate a three-hour ceremony, select categories will be presented during commercial breaks. Winning moments will be edited and later aired during the broadcast.
The moves are likely to be controversial, particularly the decision not to televise certain awards and the creation of the popular film category.
In particular, it’s unclear if financially successful films will now get the cold shoulder from voters assessing the year’s best picture because blockbusters have been given their own award.