The Oscars Reformat: Broadcast Shortened to 3 Hours, Adds New "Popular Film" Category

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The Oscars Reformat: Broadcast Shortened to 3 Hours, Adds New "Popular Film" Category

Major changes are coming to the Oscars in 2019. After the 2018 broadcast ended up being the lowest-rated Academy Awards telecast in history, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has gone into full-on damage control mode. Last night, the organization reelected its president, cinematographer John Bailey, but it also approved a slew of changes for the 91st Academy Awards, which is scheduled for Feb. 24, 2019. Each change is directly targeted at garnering a larger television audience, by both streamlining the ceremony and adding a new category to bring in new viewers.

In short:

1. The broadcast will be streamlined to a deadline of three hours by altering which of the categories are presented live on TV during the broadcast. The 24 competitive awards currently presented at the Oscars will all still be presented, but according to Bailey and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson in a letter to members, the broadcast will be trimmed by “present[ing] select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined).” Or in other words, the likes of “Best Sound Mixing” will happen live during a commercial break, and then be aired in a shortened, edited format at some point later in the broadcast. This is a bit shocking, considering that the Academy’s board of governors is largely composed of film professionals who hail from those technical categories, but it speaks to what a large crisis these low ratings are for the Academy Awards. It seems likely that there will be some kind of protest from the professionals in these fields as a result.

2. Of the most interest to the regular viewer, the Academy will “create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film,” a category that would specifically be catering to blockbusters in the vein of Avengers: Infinity War or Black Panther. The mere presence of such a category is a bold, progressive move for the Oscars in terms of film inclusion (maybe a horror movie can actually win something), but it immediately raises a plethora of questions. How does one possibly determine which films are “popular films” and which are not? Would a blockbuster that normally stood a chance of making its way into the Best Picture field now be consigned to Best Popular Film? Do we really need 10 nominees for Best Picture, if Best Popular Film now exists alongside it? And does the existence of Best Popular Film call into question the validity of the Best Picture category itself in an existential way?

Moreover, why did the Academy even announce the existence of such a hugely important category without a suitable definition ready to go? The announcement literally reads “eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.” Will selections be based on the tone or genre of films? On box office receipts? We have no idea. At this time, it’s not even known if Best Popular Film will exist as a category in time for the 91st Oscars in February.

3. The air date for the 92nd Oscars, the ceremony taking place in 2020 to honor the films of 2019, will be moved up from its original air date of Feb. 23, 2020 to Feb. 9, 2020. One can only assume that this change is being made to avoid the sense that the ceremony comes along too late, after a protracted awards season has killed any hype that it might possess.

Suffice to say, these changes are huge in terms of the overall structure of the Oscars broadcast, and the Best Popular Film category in particular has the potential to greatly change how the average theater-goer perceives the event. Will it tarnish whatever gravitas or dignity the Oscars had left by transforming them into a more prestigious version of the MTV Movie Awards? Or will it lead to a revitalization of the famed awards show, which culminates in a ratings revival?

We’ll bring you more news on these changes as it breaks.