On Wednesday, media critics were thrown into a frenzy when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors announced three key changes to upcoming ceremonies. There will now be a mandatory three-hour telecast facilitated by presenting certain selected categories during commercial breaks, an earlier air-date for the ceremony (it will be moved from February 23rd to February 9th in 2020) and a new category for Outstanding Achievement in popular film.
The announcement seemed exceptionally abrupt but subsequent reporting provided context. After the recent Oscar ceremony in March, the Disney-ABC Television Group, which signed a package in 2016 to produce the ceremony well into the new decade, had its executives meet with leaders of the Academy. Just over 26 million American viewers had tuned in for this year’s broadcast of the awards ceremony, reflecting a 19% decline from the previous year. They were concerned about these low ratings. Were the Oscars facing irrelevance? A fix was needed. Hence, Wednesday’s announcement. The candour with which it was presented suggested that the Academy was proud of its decisions. The reactions, however, did not follow suit. From critics to Oscar devotees to filmmakers, the response was less enthused. And, in their way, the decisions seemed symptomatic of larger cultural issues. In an almost craven search for popularity, the Academy seemed to be an institution unaware of what made it significant. For few things suggest irrelevance as much as questioning your own relevance…..