John Bailey, ASC, Is Re-Elected as AMPAS President

In a claimed bid to “keep the Oscars … relevant,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) said it will omit some award categories from the live Oscars broadcast and add one new category — outstanding achievement in popular film — to future award slates.

In a letter sent to members last night, the Academy said “select categories” will be presented during the ceremony in the Dolby Theatre during commercial breaks, with an edited montage of “winning moments” airing later in the broadcast. AMPAS said the change is necessary in order for the organization to hold the broadcast to a three-hour limit.

No details on eligibility requirements or criteria for the new “popular film” category were offered, but AMPAS said those will be “forthcoming.”

The move is apparently an attempt to improve ratings for the Oscars telecast. Some sort of response is appropriate — this year’s Oscars averaged just 26.5 million viewers, which represented not just a 20 percent dip from the previous year but a historic low for the broadcast. But there’s sure to be pushback from Hollywood guilds if the Academy intends to remove any craft categories from the telecast.

Also part of last night’s announcement: the Academy is moving the 92nd Oscars telecast up by two weeks to February 9, 2020, reducing the length of Oscar season overall. And John Bailey, ASC, was re-elected president of the Academy by the AMPAS Board of Governors.

Our Take

The Academy’s desperate pursuit of ratings is understandable but unseemly for an organization whose goal should be advancing awareness of the cinematic arts, and its tactical moves threaten to reduce the cachet of what remains the most prestigious award in the entertainment industry. Presumably AMPAS would like to see a popular phenomenon like Black Panther be in contention for a “top” award — but the Best Picture field has already been expanded in the hopes of making room for blockbusters on the Academy’s shortlist, and that doesn’t seem to be improving ratings. So what gives?

The decision to add an entirely new (and, one might argue, sure to be ill-defined) best feature film category to the Oscars is at odds with the stated intention of reducing bloat. Keep in mind: film buffs and industry insiders alike have been lobbying AMPAS for years to add a category honoring stunt work — a move that would bring more action fare into the tent and add some genuine liveliness to the Oscars. If there’s no time for a stunt category in the broadcast, why is the Academy shoehorning in a redundant best feature category?

Moreover, AMPAS did not explain why it thinks holding the telecast to three hours will necessarily improve ratings. The 1998 Oscars ran an epic three hours and forty-five minutes — longer than Titanic, which swept the awards! — but drew a massive average of 57.25 million viewers. Of course, the television landscape has changed so dramatically over those 20 years that it’s unlikely anything AMPAS could do would keep viewership from dwindling. It’s not just the Oscars whose ratings are suffering.

(Also worth noting: Titanic was both the most popular film of the year and the Academy’s Best Picture winner. Under the new rules, would it win both top awards?)

Bottom line? The Academy won’t fool anyone by adding a new category for “popular” movies. It’s a consolation prize. Audiences, even mass audiences, know when they’re being condescended to. And that’s not a good look for an organization trying to stay relevant in the age of peak TV.