Just days before Sunday’s Oscarcast, the Producers Guild, Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild announced dates for their 2013 ceremonies, eliciting a collective groan from an industry still looking for the light at the end of a long awards-season tunnel.
These announcements of seemingly simple administrative details raise a question about what the landscape would look like if the Oscars were to move to early February.
A contingent within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has been pushing such a move for years, but it hadn’t seemed possible until last month, when the Acad announced plans to begin electronic voting for the 2013 ceremony. With electronic voting, the earlier date is possible — but not inevitable. The Academy has been talking with reps of the guilds, who are said to be pushing to retain the status quo. And the AMPAS people are listening.
The PGA has planted its flag on Jan. 19, followed by the DGA and SAG on the 26th and 27th, respectively. This means the available calendar dates are already being narrowed, 11 months in advance.
Proponents of the move assume that any shift would shorten the amount of time for campaigning, always a sore spot for AMPAS, which bristles at any implication that wins are tied to campaign spending. They also say it would truncate the season and relieve so-called awards fatigue.
And many proponents believe that if Oscar moved earlier, it would underline his primacy and that other awards shows would fade away.
But many within the Academy counter these arguments, saying that if the Oscars moved, the rest of the industry’s awards shows would also shift dates: Campaigning wouldn’t be shorter, it would simply begin earlier. With orgs making millions of dollars from their kudocasts — and hoping to continue doing so — other awards shows are not going to simply go away.
Those whispering in the Polo Lounge or at Soho House are willing to name names, surmising that a move could disarm the Golden Globes. Some think that the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s 69-year-old upstart show — it’s an upstart when you’re 84 — has contributed to the decline in Oscarcast ratings.
However, boosting ratings and doing what’s best for the Oscars can be conflicting goals.
It’s true that viewers can see stars in pretty dresses at more televised shows than ever — such as the Globes, the Critics Choice Movie Awards and the SAG Awards — but ratings for the Oscars are never going to be what they were when there were three networks and no cable.
If the purpose of the Oscars is to promote moviegoing — and by extension promote the business of entertainment — shortening the season will only complicate matters. This December alone saw 36 films debut, and an already crowded month could get more intense if the date changes. Voters have access to early screenings, but the Oscarcast home audience — the viewers that this change is supposed to court — can most likely see films only on the weekends in theaters.
In addition, the Academy has been pushing its members to see movies on the bigscreen instead of watching screeners. Aside from the piracy issue, ensuring that voters see even a fraction of the 200-plus eligible films in a given year begs for more time — not less.
The Oscar ceremony has been scheduled all over the calendar throughout its history, but the last eight ceremonies have been nestled into a sweet spot in the schedule: at the very end of February sweeps and outside of football season.