Different host, new location among changes

Last year, the Brit Awards, Blighty’s music biz kudos, took place five days before the British Academy Film Awards, and BAFTA toppers allowed themselves a touch of Schadenfreude when the Brits drew a limp TV audience of just 3.8 million viewers.

The BAFTA team was confident of hitting 5 million on BBC1 primetime. Imagine the shock, then, when the overnight ratings came out, and only 3 million people had bothered to tune in. Apparently, there was some gripping ice dancing on the other channel.

In the league table of televised British awards, the BAFTA film ceremony came a resounding last in 2005-06, not just behind the Brits but also some distance below all the local kudos for TV talent, including BAFTA’s own TV awards.

Within the film biz, BAFTA’s film ceremony, masterfully hosted for several years by Stephen Fry, is regarded as slick, witty and mercifully sharp (it takes just two hours, with no interminable song-and-dance numbers), while featuring an agreeably strong showing of Hollywood stars. But all of this seems to mean surprisingly little to the general public watching at home.

That has prompted the org and the BBC to go back to the drawing board for a rethink, the conclusions of which are just starting to emerge.

One significant change is that movies in the running for awards must be released in Blighty before the ceremony, ensuring a higher level of public awareness for the contenders. Previously, pics could open up to a month afterwards, so last year the likes of “Capote,” “Syriana” and “Tsotsi” meant little to the viewing public when the prizes were handed out.

By coincidence, Fry has decided to take a break from presenting. He is expected to be replaced by irreverent chatshow host Jonathan Ross, a more mainstream figure who hosted the event a couple of times in the late ’90s.

Also, the ceremony is moving from the Odeon Leicester Square to the larger Royal Opera House in nearby Covent Garden. This will enable BAFTA to make use of the ROH’s big public screen and transmit the event live to a crowd in the Covent Garden piazza.

Radical ideas being kicked around for the ceremony include hopping back and forth from the invited guests inside to the public reaction outside, as well as using more backstage and red-carpet footage to bring a more spontaneous and unscripted flavor.

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