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Academy Adds Popular Film Oscar Category in Desperate Ratings Move

Marvel and Disney's "Black Panther" had a major shot at making Oscar history before the addition of a new Oscar category.

"Black Panther"

“Black Panther”

Marvel

At the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors meeting on Tuesday night, the 54 governors voted to add a new category to the Oscars. Per tradition, some 8,000 Academy voters, experts in their field, voted in by their colleagues, will weigh in on the best films of the year in 24 categories covering the crafts of moviemaking, from cinematography to sound, as well as the four acting categories, directing, writing, animation, foreign language, documentary, and fiction shorts and features.

But this year there will be one more: Best Popular Film. The Academy is bowing to pressure from ABC, which is anxious about historic low ratings for its telecast. The next Oscars will air on February 24, 2019 and, in 2020, will move up from February 23 to February 9, the earliest date ever, in a bid to jump ahead of multiple rival awards shows–which will, in turn, move ahead of the Oscars. (In the early days of its history, the Oscars were held in May, moved to April and March, then February.)

The Board also finally succumbed to building pressure to keep the show to three hours and not present live some of the less sexy craft categories, following the lead of other awards shows like the Tonys. (Sexy categories like Sound Mixing and Editing will be presented live during commercial breaks, then edited into the show.) This also serves to undermine the integrity of these annual global awards, which may be losing relevance as a mainstream shared event, but are still revered by cinephiles around the world.

The Academy’s message to members from CEO Dawn Hudson and re-elected president John Bailey is below:

Dear Member,

Last night, the Board of Governors met to elect new board officers, and discuss and approve significant changes to the Oscars telecast.

The Board of Governors, staff, Academy members, and various working groups spent the last several months discussing improvements to the show.

Tonight, the Board approved three key changes:

1. A three-hour Oscars telecast

We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.

To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.

2. New award category

We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.

3. Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars

The date of the 92nd Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.

The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.

We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.

We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.

John Bailey and Dawn Hudson

Clearly, the hope is that adding the Best Popular Film category to the telecast will improve viewership and build up historically low ratings, which have sagged since the move from five to up to ten Best Picture nominees has failed to yield many mainstream contenders. But what does popular have to do with best? It’s up to the Academy members to make that determination. The rules regarding the new category have yet to be revealed, which opens the floodgates for opposition.

This year, for example, Disney and Marvel’s “Black Panther” had an excellent chance of making it to the Best Picture and many other races. Now we may never know if it had a chance to earn its rightful place at the top of the Hollywood firmament, as it could be sequestered in the meaningless “popular film” category. This is a damn shame.

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