At least a few viewers tuning into the 81st Annual Academy Awards may find static instead.
The Oscars are set to be broadcast from the Kodak Theater on Sunday, Feb. 22 — just five days after the country’s much-ballyhooed transition to digital TV takes place.
With the ceremony coming so soon after broadcasters switch off their analog signals, it’s possible that at least some viewers — who perhaps only tune in for big events like the Oscars — will discover they can’t watch the show. Others may miss the Oscars through sheer procrastination and inertia, after failing to replace their set, order cable or hook up a converter box in time.
That’s why, insiders confirm, the Alphabet web had been hoping to move the Academy Awards back into March, even though the awards season has been moving earlier and earlier in recent years. Next year’s Golden Globes, for example, are set to air Jan. 11 — the show’s earliest date yet.
A one-time push of the Oscarcast into March would help ABC avoid any transition-related hiccup — and at the same time keep the kudos inside a sweeps month. Nielsen Media Research has already moved next February’s sweeps period to March in order to give stations time to iron out any digital transition problems.
Despite those concerns from ABC and others, the show is staying put — even though longtime Oscar producer Gil Cates isn’t. Cates confirmed that, due to his commitments at UCLA and the Geffen Playhouse, he won’t be back to oversee the 81st edition. Another producer is expected to be named shortly.
Cates has produced 14 Oscar ceremonies — more than any other individual. He’s up for an Emmy in the new “special class program — awards programs” category Sunday for the 80th Annual Academy Awards.
Even without Cates, the Acad is expecting better ratings for next year’s ceremony, given the more commercial field of potential Oscar nominees (“The Dark Knight,” for starters).
With a field of little-seen films containing mostly grim themes, this past February’s Oscarcast logged its smallest audience on record — 32 million.
Concerns about declining auds would seemingly bolster arguments that the Oscars should be moved further away from the digital transition.
The Oscars were a March mainstay until 2004, when the Acad and ABC agreed to move the show to February. For the Academy, it was a chance to avoid kudo fatigue by shifting the ceremony closer to what’s generally considered awards season. For ABC, it was a chance to move the highly rated special into February sweeps.
The Academy did make an exception, however, in 2006, when the ceremony moved back to early March to avoid the Winter Olympics.
A spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Assn. said he didn’t think the Oscars would be dramatically impacted by the digital TV switchover.
“The broadcast of the Oscars will take place in an environment where broadcasters will have taken incredible steps and great pains to make sure that everybody gets the message,” said Jason Oxman, senior VP of industry affairs at the CEA. “At this point, 86% of Americans know about the transition. There will be some people who wait and delay in taking any action, but our goal is to make sure the information is out there.”
According to Oxman, 11 million of the nation’s 114.5 million TV households watch analog TV via antenna.
February’s other major kudofest, the Grammy Awards, will take place Feb. 8 — before the digital transition.