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Oscar academy announces major changes: A new popular film category, shorter ceremony

The verdict: the decision of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is aimed at arresting poor ratings and pleasing blockbuster producers.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that organises the Oscars every year has announced major changes in the ceremony’s format: the introduction of an Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film category, a shorter, three-hour telecast, and an earlier airdate by a couple of weeks from 2020.

The move followed the re-election of John Bailey as the academy’s president on Tuesday. Among the reasons behind the decision: dipping ratings and the “hope of retaining the viewers it still has and luring others back into the fold ahead of the 91st Academy Awards on Feb. 24, 2019”, The Hollywood Reporter said.

The new category is being seen as an attempt to ensure that tentpole productions and box office hits get something to go home with alongside more serious-minded and offbeat fare. “More than the length of the telecast or the name of the host, Oscar ratings have been shown to correlate with the popularity of the nominated films among the general public,” veteran Oscar watcher Scott Feinberg said in The Hollywood Reporter. “And the gulf between what the public buys tickets to see and what the Academy nominates and awards has never been greater.” This new category will ensure a place at the ceremony for such crowdpleasers as Black Panther, Mission: Impossible — Fallout and Avengers: Infinity War, it is speculated.

Not all of the 24 competitive awards will be telecast anymore. “To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined),” said a letter sent to the members of the Academy board that was quoted by Hollywood trade publications. “The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.”

Indiewire’s awards editor Anne Thompson slammed the move to cut down the number of broadcasted categories. “No more Sound Mixing and Editing, boys and girls,” she wrote. “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.”

While the ceremony for 2019 will be held on the previously announced date of February 24, the date for the 2020 event will be moved up, to February 9. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, whose ceremony precedes the Oscars by a couple of weeks, said that it was considering changing its date too. “Our intention will be to stay ahead of the Oscars, as we have been since 2001,” a BAFTA spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter.

The Academy’s announcement elicited mixed reactions on Twitter, especially to the creation of the popular film category.

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