Biz would scramble, adapt to an earlier kudocast

The AMPAS board of governors will hold one of its regularly scheduled meetings tonight and it’s likely they will address all the talk about possibly moving the Academy Awards earlier by as much as a month. They’ll probably talk about it, but it’s questionable whether they will make a firm decision one way or another.

Moving the date is an interesting idea, and one that affects thousands of people and millions of dollars: Oscar is the Alpha Male of kudocasts, and a shift would mean other events scrambling to change their dates, which would affect everything from network scheduling to limo rentals.

Like all interesting ideas, this raises a slew of questions.

Would it re-energize the Academy Awards?

Some people think the slipping ratings over the years indicate a loss of prestige. It doesn’t. It’s still the No. 1 showbiz award and maybe always will be. The world has changed and it’s unlikely the Oscars will ever match the ratings of decades past (or even the “Titanic” year). By now, viewers know what the show is. They either want to watch or they don’t, and a few tweaks to the format won’t likely make a difference. Neither will a shift in dates.

What do the studios, indies and filmmakers think?

I dunno, has anybody asked them?

A shorter timespan between nominations and awards will definitely cut into box office. Studios used to have six weeks to tubthump their noms, and the films usually saw a big jump in box office. With an accelerated schedule, that’s less money.

Should money be the primary concern in making these decisions?

No. But neither should TV ratings, or the NFL schedule. The Oscars are about recognizing excellence in film and that should be the goal: how to better promote and salute the year’s best. (Another question: Does that last sentence sound logical, overly idealistic, sanctimonious, or all three?)

Can Variety be objective?

Please, forget the “Oh, he has a vested interest in this topic” thoughts. Variety is not as dependent on those “for your consideration” ads as people think. We’ll be fine, thanks for asking.

Personally, a shorter window will make my life easier. Then it would be only three months of exhausting awards-centered events, rather than four (which is much easier than the previous five).

So, it’s a good thing for me. But the world doesn’t center around me (a painful admission to make). Oscar shouldn’t be about personal convenience, and shouldn’t be about license fees, football-scheduling conflicts or worry about what the other guys are doing.

The Academy’s big choice should not be when to hold the event, but what the event should be. Is it really to honor folks in 25 categories, or is it a TV show? When Oscar made his TV debut in 1953, those two elements made a fascinating mix. Now, some in the public think it’s overly weighted to the former, at the expense of the latter — just a televised litany of thank-yous.

As Peter Bart pointed out in his column (Daily Variety, Oct. 11), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences folks are exploring online options for film-viewing and voting. So why not use online to rethink the show? Put some of the categories’ winners online, giving each nominee three minutes to explain his/her work, and jillions of viewers can log in. Rotate that lineup annually. Everybody wins! (But not everybody wins on the ABC broadcast …)

Another big question should be whether a date change will impact the voting. Crystal ball says: very likely.

n The Academy and ABC previously moved the kudocast date up about a month starting on Feb. 24, 2004 (honoring the ’03 films). Before that, the film with the most nominations went on to win best pic in 18 out of 20 years. Since then, the film with the most noms won only twice in six years.

n In the final year that the rites were held in late-March (when “Chicago” won), all five best-pic contenders opened after Dec. 18. Since then, Oscar’s top category has included only one or two that were late-December bows — even last year, with 10 contenders.

Are these coincidences? Maybe. But every awards strategist knows the importance of timing: building awareness, maintaining buzz, avoiding backlash.

Have these changes been good or bad? It’s not for me to say, but it seems clear that a date change does affect results.

People resist change, though it’s inevitable. And ultimately, it’s a good thing to shake things up. But it’s crucial to make changes for the right reason. Ego and money are of course factors; they drive most decisions everywhere in the world. But the Academy has always been scrupulous about upholding its reputation, and let’s hope that whatever they decide, they remember that awards should be about honoring the best.

No further questions, your honor.

timothy.gray@variety.comRead previous columns at Variety.com/Gray

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