We’ve already listed our premature predictions of what movies might be 2016 Best Picture contenders, but that was based on the premise that next year, we’d once again be looking at a field of ten nominees. It was in 2010 that the Academy first expanded the number of eligible slots, in the hopes that it would give the industry a chance to honor more of the finest accomplishments in cinema… who are we kidding, they wanted more ratings from the awards show broadcast. The shaky theory was that with more nominated films, less arty, more populist fare could slip in, translating to more viewers. Yet, year upon year, the Oscar telecast has shown a mostly downwards ratings trajectory, and in 2015 the audience numbers dropped 14% from the year before. So, what’s the solution?
THR reports that the Academy is mulling a return to five Best Picture nominees. The thinking is that the number of nominees has “watered down the prestige” of the awards, but more crucially, hasn’t changed the fact that no one but the most die hard movie fans watches the Oscars. But of course, this could end up making things harder on the Academy than they might intend.
It’s debatable that a movie like “American Sniper,” which earned more at the box office than the rest of this year’s Best Picture nominees combined, would have been a contender in a year with five slots. And clearly, its presence didn’t make much of a difference in the number of people tuning in. Outside of that film, the rest of the nominees were mostly dominated by arthouse and indie fare, and a smaller field would’ve arguably shut out the major studios entirely.
Moreover, the reason people don’t watch the Oscars goes beyond which movies are nominated. Each year, the show drags on and on, over three hours long, with only the most superficial of changes to the format each year. If the Academy were truly interested in trying to expand their audience, they might want to try making some radical fixes instead beyond just hoping a new host each year will do the trick. Or in this case, that dropping the number of nominees will magically spark more interest.
It will be more than a couple new coats of paint to get viewership up and it will be a process that will likely take a few years to see any significant boost. But this idea of rejigging the number of nominees again feels like yet another misguided move by the Academy who continue to make cosmetic tweaks to the Oscar broadcast, when it needs a complete overhaul.