Academy sticks with its Feb. 27 date

Oscar is sticking with his Feb. 27 date next year and, though the Academy is studying the feasibility of an earlier date starting in 2012, there are more questions than answers at this point.

Every year, at least one board member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences proposes a January date for the kudocast, to better maintain the show’s primacy amid a glut of film celebrations. However, in mulling date switches, the org needs to factor in elements including ABC, the NFL and the logistics of reaching Oscar voters in enough time.

“The date for the next Oscar telecast, the 83rd, has already been announced and is firm: February 27, 2011,” AMPAS spokeswoman Leslie Unger said Wednesday. The response followed an online report indicating that a date switch could be imminent.

Unger said that a possible date switch had been discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the panel but stressed that no decision has been reached.

“This idea is simply under consideration and being explored as a possibility,” she added. “There are a number of questions still to be answered and challenges to be addressed with regard to moving the show to an earlier date. The Academy governors and staff have been and will continue to look into those questions and challenges.”

The Oscars were moved into February in 2004 after many years of being slotted in late March and early April. This year’s ceremony was held March 7 to avoid conflicting with the Winter Olympics.

However, there are TV considerations. For one thing, ABC would prefer to air the highly rated show during February sweeps. Also, since 2004, the Super Bowl has been airing the first Sunday in February, and the Grammys are traditionally the second Sunday in February. Lately, the NFL has been mulling the Super Bowl in the second or third Sunday in February. In theory, that could leave the Academy a week after the final championship game and before the Bowl, but logistics could still be tricky.

A January Oscarcast seems highly unlikely, due to the domino effect of timing. An earlier kudocast would mean earlier announcement of nominations, meaning earlier deadlines for nom ballots.

In the past as the issues were raised, Academy officials have always stressed that the nearly 6,000 voting members need a chance to see the contenders. When a film opens late in the year — such as “Avatar,” which was in post-production until just before its release — it’s relatively simpler to arrange screenings for orgs like the L.A. Film Critics (with 50 members) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. (with 80), since they’re all based in Los Angeles. But it’s much more difficult to ensure that thousands of Oscar voters, who live in various sites around the globe, can see a late-year release from a major studio, or the many smaller films and indie releases that open in late December. And the mailing in of ballots and tabulation are already in fast-forward, due to the late-February date.

Proponents of moving the Oscars forward annually suggest that such a move would help TV ratings. They feel that film fans and TV viewers are suffering a fatigue factor after broadcasts of the Golden Globes, People’s Choice Awards, the SAG Awards, the Critics Choice Awards from the broadcast film critics, as well as media coverage of voting from other guilds and critics prizes.

However, one exec on Wednesday said there’s no guarantee that moving the show is going to have any impact on ratings: “The idea of doing this feels desperate,” she added. When the Academy shifted the date in 2004, some members secretly hoped that other kudocasts would fade away. Instead, they also made earlier shifts, ensuring that Oscar would be the climax of awards season, not the kickoff.

One Academy voter agreed that the attempt to boost ratings may be futile: At this point, U.S. viewers know what the Oscars are. If they’re interested, they’ll tune in; if they’re not interested, very few things, including Oscarcast innovations or an earlier date, are likely to make them change their minds.

Those in favor of moving up the kudocast say a shortened window could level the playing field, versus one or two films pulling ahead by the end of the year and dominating the awards season in January and February. Proponents also said box office could be boosted, since more films would still be in theaters in the midst of campaigning.

On the other hand, most majors and indies see the biggest boost in box office between the announcement of nominations and the actual show. A nom is a great film promotion and by shortening the window, their B.O. yield could be diminished.

Having the show in January, if the Acad should try to pull it off, could bring significant changes to the release calendar, particularly for independent films, which open right up until Dec. 31, hoping for an awards run by being fresh in the minds of voters.

One indie distrib said more specialty films would be released pre-Thanksgiving under the new scheme. “I like compressing the season. Now, there’s award fatigue,” he said. “What you wouldn’t see anymore is a ‘There Will be Blood’ being released on Christmas Day.” However, most companies schedule their releases to capitalize on the holiday surge in box office, so it’s a question mark how many companies would avoid December bows.

Advocates of an earlier Oscarcast say indie films could still open late in the year, but rely on screeners to reach award voters (already a common practice).

AMPAS announced Tuesday that Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer have been tapped to produce the 83rd annual Academy Awards telecast. Mischer will also direct the Feb. 27 telecast on ABC.

(Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)

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