Oscar’s on the move

ABC, Kodak on board for 2004 kudocast sked shift

Many in Hollywood were dubious that the Academy would actually take the bold step of moving Oscar to February.

But now reality has set in.

“I think you could consider this a done deal,” AMPAS executive director Bruce Davis said Wednesday.

After the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences board voted June 25 to shift the 2004 Oscarcast a month earlier, to Feb. 29, there were still many factors to weigh, but the Acad has got the greenlight in two key respects: The Kodak Theater is available on the target date and, crucially, ABC has signed off on the move.

The board had voted to change dates “as a two-year experiment,” according to Davis, who added, “This is an experiment worth trying.”

At the TV Critics Assn. semi-annual press tour in Pasadena Wednesday, ABC execs said it wasn’t their idea to move the Academy Awards — but they aren’t hiding their excitement about the idea.

“We’re very enthusiastic about the move because we think it’s a great thing for the Academy Awards,” said ABC Television Network prexy Alex Wallau. “And whatever’s good for the Academy Awards is good for us.”

Davis concurred that the move was initiated by the Academy, not execs at ABC. “They were not in any way nudging us to do this. They would never do that. But we wouldn’t make the change without consulting them.”

Davis said the Acad and ABC have been talking for years about a change in dates. “Their highest hope was that we could get this into the sweeps period,” he said. But after AMPAS execs did a lot of calculations, “We realized there was no way to squeeze that many days out of the process.”

The 2004 Oscarcast would not take place during the February ratings sweeps, a four-week frame that local stations use to set advertising rates. But because dates for the February sweeps change every year — sometimes starting in January or ending in March — the Oscars could end up in sweeps some years.

While sweeps are ultracompetitive, with the networks often scheduling their biggest programming guns all on the same night, Wallau doesn’t believe a sweeps-month Oscarcast would run into such a problem.

“I don’t believe people are going to counterprogram the Academy Awards, even if we put it in the sweep,” Wallau told Daily Variety. “There’s no effective way to counterprogram and I don’t think people will try.”

Upside for Alphabet

In sweeps or out, an early Oscars has plenty of upside for ABC.

The Academy Awards broadcast often serves as a springboard for ABC to launch new midseason skeins — such as last spring’s surprise hit “The Bachelor.” Moving the Oscars up a month would give ABC more time to try out new shows before the season ends in May.

What’s more, Wallau thinks there’s a good chance an early Oscarcast would snag higher ratings — and thus reap more ad coin for ABC.

“It’s possible that the show will perform better,” which would mean the network could charge advertisers more, he said.

Ratings cleanup

While the current issue of Entertainment Weekly says the impetus behind the move was the mudslinging around “A Beautiful Mind” this year, Davis said that’s not true. As for dirty campaigning, “None of that came up (in the board discussion). This is not a campaign issue. They were looking at the fact that ratings have been ticking downward over the year.”

Wallau thinks a February Oscarcast also will boost the show’s already sky-high importance in Hollywood and with viewers by diminishing the impact of other kudocasts.

An earlier date “does not allow the other award shows that precede the Academy Awards to kind of get the traction that they get by having time to focus attention on them,” he said. “You also get the Academy Awards closer to the year in which people saw the movies, so the movies are more top of mind to the viewers and therefore they can make a better connection to the show.”

If the 2004 Oscarcast goes well, Wallau imagined a scenario in which the Academy moves the show up one more week to ensure it will always fall during a ratings sweeps period.

“The first year is kind of an experiment to see if logistically you can get done everything you need to get done,” he said. “They may find they’re comfortable with moving it earlier, and if they do, we’re comfortable with that.”

Last week, the Acad issued a timetable for the 75th ceremony. Those dates, which include everything from ballot mailings to the nomination luncheon, are firm, Davis said. The Oscars will be held March 23 at the Kodak.

Regarding the calendar for the 76th awards — i.e., dates for unveiling nominations, etc. — Davis said, “We’re not going to announce this for many months to come.”

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