| January 13, 2020
People with multimillion budgets adjust easily.
The February 9 date of this year’s Oscars have led to whining beyond all whining. “People don’t have time to see all the movies!” “It’s all happening too quick!” “All the other shows are bunched up!”
And here is the issue for The Academy.
The Academy is not in the business of maintaining the Oscar Industrial Complex. It is not in the business of adding another 10% or so to the annual take of the trades. It is not there to make sure that 80something little known writers who work for obscure foreign outlets and are only as important as their show’s ratings on NBC are comfy.
People shout about wanting The Academy to be more representative of the slowly improving state of culture, yet somehow they are still deeply invested in the idea of awards for the previous year being given out two months after the end of the year and the world giving a damn.
You know how a show comes on TV these days and if you aren’t able to discuss it in that first two weeks or so, you feel left behind, perhaps even apologizing for being late to the party?
What is truly amazing is not that The Academy Awards rating numbers have slowly dropped over the last decade. What is amazing is that so many people still watch, year in and year out. The Emmys (10 million) and Grammys (20 million) bend over backwards to try to amuse potential viewers and they still can’t hold a ratings candle to Oscar. (Grammys had a moment… then regressed.)
Is there anything that can actually make Oscar grow, after all these years?
I have argued and will argue that pushing them earlier is the serious move on the table. (I am not committed to the results this year, as one year of changing it is not enough for it to make a real impression on the potential TV audience… this year, if it were to continue early, would by the year of experiment.)
This achieves two goals. First, it significantly lessens award fatigue. Yes, The Globes still exist. But the media attention paid to show after show after show is not going to feel the same when Oscar is just around the corner. Second, relevance.
Do your friends ask you what you’ve seen at the movies two months ago?
It is as likely as not that Monday morning’s Oscar nominations will feature two films (1917, Little Women) that opened theatrically in December and a third, The Two Popes, that hit theaters in late November — the last of this year’s Netflix entries to do so — and hit the service in mid-December.
So wah-wah-wah… tell me again how there are too many movies to see.
Here’s another simple fact. The Academy nominations voting started later this year, in the shorter season, than it used to. Part of that is that the move to all-online voting. But still, nomination voting started before Christmas before 2016.
Even in the categories that have special rules and schedules (Documentaries and International), complaining about the deadline is almost less legitimate, as the nominating process starts months earlier, the shortlist narrowed weeks before arriving at five nominees.
For people who don’t have enough time to see all the films in play… here is the reality. You are never likely to have enough time to see all the films in play. Three weeks more. Three weeks less. The difference may be a title or two… but the truth is, The Academy is an organization of hardworking people and time is precious. Yes. Absolutely. But there are a grand total of no movies that will Oscar nominated on Monday that have not been readily available to Academy voters for over a month. And there are, maybe, five or six titles amongst those seriously in play that have not been available for at least two months.
But let’s get back to the benefits of an early Oscars, as opposed to berating those who claim they can’t see the movies in time. (I know that I am in an unusual position, but I have seen every one of the Top 20 candidates for BP at this point at least twice and I’ve seen all but four of the International shortlist and Doc shortlist films, because of access issues.)
Why the rush? What are the likely benefits of an early date?
How we consume content has changed. There is enormous value placed on events that are live and offer immediacy that also capture the public imagination.
Why have The Grammys ratings faded since they hit their last peak in 2012? That year, Whitney Houston’s and Adele’s return to the stage took the show to an Oscar-competitive 39 million domestic viewers. Since, it has stabilized at about half of that, around 20 million viewers.
I would argue that, without an unexpected passing of a living legend, the show is just a concert, floating with no clear rhyme or reason. Why is it in February? Like Oscar, it is, in theory, a year-end show. But unlike Oscar, there isn’t really a sense of “Grammy season.” Music isn’t as seasonal as it once was. And the genius of making the Grammy show into a unique concert event has lost steam, as the number of moments that are meant to be special on the show have become greater than the number of moments that are truly memorable.
So why would a January/Early February date help Oscar?
Sorry, but the reality remains… if you haven’t seen Jojo Rabbit, you can’t blame the short season. If you haven’t seen 1917, you might be waiting to see it on a big screen — you should — but it’s not like the disc hasn’t been sitting in the pile for a month already. Same with Little Women. Unless you don’t have Netflix, The Two Popes has been sitting on your TV, waiting for you, since before Christmas.
You know what’s been hard to see? The Painted Bird. Unless your Academy stream is working, there is a very good chance that you haven’t seen the film. They had a lot of early screenings, but without discs going to International voters, it has been a challenge. But that is the exception that demonstrates the overall truth.
The Academy needs a three-year experiment in the early dating of the show. Before Super Bowl is even better. (Not sure if ABC will go for that.) But three shows in a row will give the industry and the audience a chance to find balance in the change. And if I am wrong, I will happily say so.
I don’t think that there is a future for Oscar where the viewership goes over 50 million again, except in some exceptional moment (or if Netflix measures the audience… mwahhaha). But maintaining or even building a little on the 40 million they linger near may be possible.
The irony is there are so many people in the industry who want/wanted to narrow the DVD window from theatrical because they didn’t want to have to sell the same movie a second time at great cost. So what do we cling to with Oscar? Waiting so long into the next year that ABC has to sell the world on watching a show honoring a bunch of movies that stopped spending on their own marketing weeks or months earlier outside of the Oscar markets. Make a choice!!!
Getting back to the beginning of this piece… everyone whines and everyone adjusts. This is an industry of resourceful, highly paid, brilliant salespeople. Maybe the short schedule would make a December release with awards intentions harder… maybe easier. Maybe it would make it easier for a film to front-run from September to January… maybe not.
But what I know is that there is never enough time… it is never easy… consequences are as often unexpected as expected… and that we were done talking about Game of Thrones by the end of the summer and Star Wars IX will pass $500 million in less than a month and we now live in a media culture — and Oscar is a media event — where waiting two months to do a show is arrogant and self-defeating.
Now… will the last Luddite ask Alexa to turn of the lights and lock the door?
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