Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences adds new category for ‘popular films’ and drops some categories from Oscar telecast

August 8, 2018

by Carla Hay

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced some big changes to the annual Oscar ceremony:

  • A new category for outstanding achievement in popular film will be added, beginning with the 91st annual Academy Awards, which will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 2019. The Academy says that it will announce at a later date what its rules and regulations are for the new “popular film” category, but the Academy said that movies in this new category will also be eligible for the category of Best Picture.
  • Some categories will be dropped from the Oscar telecast, and the prizes for those categories will be given out during commercial breaks. The winners of the dropped categories will be listed sometime during the telecast. This change will also go into effect for the 2019 Oscar ceremony. The Academy says it will announce at a later date which categories are being dropped from the telecast. ABC has the U.S. telecast of the Oscars.
  • The Academy will strictly enforce a three-hour time limit for the Oscar telecast. In the past, the Oscar telecast has almost always gone past three-and-a-half hours, while some Oscar telecasts have been four hours or longer.
  • The date for the 92nd annual Academy Awards has been moved up from Feb. 23 to Feb. 9, 2020. The earlier date means that the Grammys and other award shows in Los Angeles that usually take place in February before the Oscars will be affected and will probably have to move the dates of their award shows too.

The changes come at a time when ratings for the Oscars have been steadily declining in recent years. The 2018 Academy Awards was the lowest-rated Oscar telecast so far, with 26.5 million U.S. viewers.

Ratings for other major award shows (for example, the Grammys, Emmys and Tonys) have been declining too. There are many theories for why TV audiences have been less interested in these award shows, including an over-saturation of award shows, as well as more competition for viewers’ attention by streaming services such as Netflix. Many people on the Internet have also said they don’t like watching award shows in recent years because of political comments that people make on stage.

With the Oscars, declining ratings have also been blamed on the fact that, in recent years, most of the winners in the biggest categories are from independent films that are not in wide release or are not big hits. The trend toward independent films winning Best Picture over major-studio blockbusters began at the 1999 Oscars, when “Shakespeare in Love” won over “Saving Private Ryan.”

That trend was repeated in subsequent Oscar ceremonies, with independent films winning Best Picture, while major-studio films that were bigger hits at the box office would usually win in the lower-profile technical categories. Consider the Oscars won by “The Hurt Locker” vs. “Avatar” in 2010; “The King’s Speech” vs. “Inception” in 2011; “12 Years a Slave” vs. “Gravity” in 2014; “Spotlight” vs. “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2016; and “The Shape of Water” vs. “Dunkirk” in 2018. All were nominated for Best Picture in those years, but independent films have dominated the winners’ list for Best Picture for the past two decades, and that trend doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

The Academy expanded the maximum number of films that could be nominated for Best Picture from five to 10 (effective with the 2010 Oscar ceremony), in an effort to bring more diversity to its Best Picture nominees.  However, that diversity didn’t really happen when it comes to certain genres of films. Comedies, horror movies and animated films are still rarely nominated for Best Picture. Action films and sci-fi films have fared a little better in getting Best Picture nominations since the maximum number of potential Best Picture nominations per year expanded to 10, but drama continues to be the predictable genre of choice to win Best Picture. “The Shape of Water,” although it has fantasy elements, is essentially still a drama film. And it was an independent film that’s in line with the Best Picture winner trend of not being a big, mainstream hit at the box office.

The Academy’s addition of a new Oscar category for “popular films” is an another obvious attempt to give some kind of “best picture” award to movies that are critically acclaimed big hits at the box office, but are typically snubbed for the Best Picture award. This big change to the Oscars is undoubtedly controversial, since many people believe that box-office sales should not be criteria for Oscar nominations. Other people who support this new category would argue that the Oscars are a popularity contest anyway, so this new category is an inevitable recognition in rewarding what is popular with movie-going audiences, not just Academy members.

Whether people like this new category or not, what should be obvious is that adding a new category is not going to bring back the massive ratings that the Oscars used to have. Too much has changed in the entertainment landscape, and the people who have been turned off from watching the Oscars aren’t going suddenly change their minds if a new category is added.

Critics of the Oscar telecast say that the show overall needs to be more entertaining. However, the performance-filled Grammy Awards has plenty of entertainment, and ratings for the Grammys are still declining. The Oscar telecast, just like any show on a broadcast network, has to face reality that it can no longer command the audience size it used to have because there are too many other options on what to watch.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president John Bailey at the Oscar Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, on February 5, 2018. (Photo by Matt Prtit/ ©A.M.P.A.S.

In other Academy news, cinematographer John Bailey has been elected to a second four-year term as president of the Academy. This is also Bailey’s 15th year as a governor representing the Cinematographers Branch. In addition, the Academy has elected these officers to its Board of Governors:

  • Lois Burwell, First Vice President (chair, Awards and Events Committee)
    • Sid Ganis, Vice President (chair, Museum Committee)
    • Larry Karaszewski, Vice President (chair, Preservation and History Committee)
    • Nancy Utley, Vice President (chair, Education and Outreach Committee)
    • Jim Gianopulos, Treasurer (chair, Finance Committee)
    • David Rubin, Secretary (chair, Membership and Administration Committee)

Burwell, Gianopulos, Rubin and Utley were re-elected. Ganis, who returned to the board this year, served as Academy president from 2005-2009. Karaszewski is a first-time Academy board member.

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