BAFTA looks to stem ratings low

Org aims to plug the plunge

LONDON — With a British-skewed nomination list for this year’s BAFTA film awards, BBC webheads are hoping the domestic telecast of the kudos presentation will reverse a nearly 50% decline in viewers since 2004.

But such a Brit-friendly lineup might not play with overseas TV audiences, where Hollywood talent is more likely to persuade viewers to switch on in big numbers than critical darlings Richard Griffiths and Helen Mirren.

The dichotomy is one of several issues facing this year’s broadcast, which comes at something of a watershed moment in the event’s history.

The shindig is leaving behind the Leicester Square Odeon, in the heart of London’s West End, for the more upscale and sedate Royal Opera House, a 10-minute walk east.

Anchoring the ceremony is irreverent British talkshow host and film buff Jonathan Ross, following the decision by longtime presenter Stephen Fry to stand down. Ross last fronted the BAFTA film awards in 1998, and he regularly hands out the gongs at ITV1’s Comedy Awards.

BBC1 controller Peter Fincham is banking on Ross’ presence to help lift viewership for the program. But even with Ross onboard, some feel BBC1 needs to beef up the marketing for the film awards.

“It’s Britain’s biggest awards show, and they don’t promote it,” claims someone with a long association with the program.

It is certainly getting lost in the shuffle. In Blighty, 3 million viewers watched 2006’s ceremony, down 1.4 million from the previous year and off 2.7 million from the show’s 2004 peak — a plunge of 47%.

“One reason why more people didn’t tune in last year was because a lot of the nominated films were not yet released in the U.K.,” reckons Whizz Kid Entertainment’s Katherine Allen, who is producing the show. “Also, there was a lack of big blockbuster films like the ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ franchises.”

“This year, there’s a very strong lineup of (films with nominations) that TV audiences care about — ‘The Queen,’ ‘Casino Royale,’ ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ to name only four,” Allen says. “It should help our audience figures that it’s been a really big year for British movies and so many British actors and actresses are making waves in Hollywood.”

Globally, the kudocast spreads a wide blanket with a few holes in it. It is seen in excess of 200 countries but not in Germany, France, Italy or Spain, according to Louise Pedersen, managing director of All3Media Intl., the show’s distrib.

“We are optimistic that Spain might come on board at the last minute because of the nomination for ‘Volver’ ” in the category of film not in the English language, Pedersen says.

On the plus side, BBC America is again broadcasting the awards in the U.S., and HBO Europe is televising the ceremonies in central Europe for the first time.

“Most of our clients air the BAFTA film awards as live or near live,” Pedersen says. “It’s split 50/50. … Everyone who takes it transmits it within 24 hours of the original telecast.

“It’s a big, profitable show for us and does very well in Asia, Latin America and Australia and New Zealand.”

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