The Academy, ABC, and Disney anticipated controversy in their decision to put four crafts Oscars into off-air announcements, with edited acceptances placed later in the show. And when the categories were announced (Film Editing, Cinematography, Makeup/Hair Design, Live-Action Short), along with the show’s first-ever live streaming, a firestorm of public opinion followed on cue.
Why didn’t they come up with other solutions? Wasn’t the lack of host time-saver enough? And of all the craft categories to remove, why Cinematography and Film Editing? They’re two of the most predictive crafts when it comes to Best Picture.
If I may: I would not presume to suggest what categories to cut during the Oscars show but – Cinematography and Editing are at the very heart of our craft. They are not inherited from a theatrical tradition or a literary tradition: they are cinema itself.
— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) February 12, 2019
Given the Academy’s current track record with major announcements, it’s possible it might have made a mess of this on its own. But Disney and ABC are tightly run ships with major agendas, and with bigger concerns than Oscar ratings. So here’s our modest proposal: There’s nothing accidental in this announcement, and shortening the show’s length is only a tertiary goal.
Let’s look at the context. Disney, which owns ABC, is also the most successful movie studio; with its takeover of 20th Century Fox, Disney could own one third of domestic box office revenue in 2019. Also starting this year is Disney +, the streaming service meant to compete head to head with Netflix.
Disney+ is a huge part of the studio’s future, and it will need millions of subscribers. It’s possible that the Oscars live streaming will provide ABC, and Disney, with direct data on a huge number of potential customers. And while there’s no question ABC would like to streamline the show, that’s a difficult transition. So maybe this awkward move to streaming is a test in itself to see how many people are willing to do it. And then that data teaches them how to move forward next year and beyond. Perhaps they could remove all but the top awards from the broadcast, instead running them as a streaming event on Disney +.
All sorts of things would need to happen in order for this to be feasible, starting with renegotiating the ABC contract. That doesn’t seem impossible, if the tradeoff is a three-hour broadcast show with lots of entertainment and an emphasis on top contenders.
Or maybe they have even grander designs. The streaming sites that thrive will have the most unique programming. It’s not too hard to think believe Disney + would be willing to pay a huge amount for exclusive Oscar show rights. (Never mind the irony that this could be the first year in which a Netflix title wins Best Picture.)
In criminal investigations, the first thing police look for is motive. Disney seems to have a bunch of them, and they aren’t the same as the Academy’s or longtime Oscar fans.