How To Fix The Academy Awards Show

As I was watching this year’s Academy Awards broadcast, I had to ask myself, is it this excruciatingly boring every year? Then I remembered – I asked myself the same question last year.  

Many reviews have already been written focusing on the length of the show (3 hours, 38 minutes), the weak material, and the lack of diversity among the nominees (and the theater audience), the acceptance speeches (some stirring, some rambling), the songs (some stirring, some rambling) and the presenters (some stirring, some rambling).

So rather than focus on those things, I want to discuss the actual structure of the show, which seems designed to minimize ratings and lose a whole generation of viewers. I know it might be strange to say that about a program that is traditionally the highest rated nonsports event on television, but that may not be always the case if some relatively simple changes are not made.

Part of the problem is that the Academy Awards are geared for Hollywood insiders, not the television viewing public. The first award presented was Best Supporting Actor.  After that, not counting the intermittent songs, clips and routines, the following awards were presented over the next two hours or so -- the period when prime-time viewing is ordinarily at its peak: Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Foreign Language Film, Live Action Short, Documentary Short Subject, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing.  Then we finally got Best Supporting Actress, followed by Visual Effects, Animated Short Film, Animated Feature Film, Production Design, Cinematography, Film Editing, Documentary Feature, Original Song, and Original Score. 



I got bored just writing this list.

At 11:10pm, there was an announcement that “Lady Gaga is up next, and later, the awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Picture.” Later! 

The rehearsals must have revealed that Lady Gaga’s "Sound of Music" tribute was spectacular. Why keep it near the end of the telecast?  It could have been moved up front and gotten people pumped from the get go.

The show started at 8:30pm EST, and the traditional prime-time daypart was now over, and the major awards had not yet been announced.

The last 20 to 30 minutes of the telecast, when the major awards are presented, are typically not even rated by Nielsen. This is because Nielsen only provides national ratings up to the last national commercial, and the last 20 minutes or so contain only local commercials. 

It never made sense to me to hold back the major awards for the end of the show – particularly since that is always post-11pm on a school night. My 15-year-old son got bored and left after about 20 minutes, so this is just one way they are driving away the next generation of viewers. It’s interesting to note that in the past 10 years, the median age of the broadcast rose from 47 to 54.

There was a time (pre-1990s), when it probably seemed logical to hold back the major awards as a way to keep viewers tuned in.  But in today’s media world, with countless other award shows, and pundits talking about the Oscars for weeks on end, there is less doubt than ever about who will likely win each award. 

There are also so many viewing choices out there, that many people probably don’t even tune in until after prime time because they know they won’t miss the big four awards. In addition, social media often keeps people tuned in. Had the major awards been spread out over the entire telecast, Twitter, Facebook and the like would have probably seen significantly more Oscar-related activity, and kept more people tuned in and discussing the show.

Now, I’m not saying they should give the non-major awards short shrift, but the pace of the show and the ratings would improve dramatically if they simply spaced out the major awards throughout the show, and gave enough time to celebrate each.

Here’s how I would do it:

After the opening, which even this year was pretty good, present Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Then present a major award every 45 minutes. For Best Actor, Actress, and Picture, precede the award presentation with three-minute clips of each nominee – this will provide a better picture of each performance and greater anticipation for each award.  While showing the clips, they could even give viewers a chance to vote online or by phone, and then show their choices online at the end of the show to see how they compare to the actual winners. Each clip series -- Best Actor, Actress, and Picture -- can be sponsored by a different advertiser.

At 9 p.m., present Best Director.  At 9:45, present Best Actor. At 10:30 present Best Actress. At 11:15 present Best Picture.

The show will flow better, it won’t be nearly as boring, and ratings will improve.

4 comments about "How To Fix The Academy Awards Show".
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  1. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, March 4, 2015 at 9:02 a.m.

    Steve, they should hire you.

  2. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, March 4, 2015 at 10:04 a.m.

    I found the show thoroughly entertaining, and not only did I watch it live but replayed it a few times during the week. I enjoyed the performances of the five Best Song nominees; NPH's opening number; Meryl Streep's touching introduction to "In Memoriam"; the crazy black dress with the dangling fur balls; the Polish director's acceptance speech, Lady Gaga's SOM tribute and Julie Andrews' appearance. I also enjoy watching audience reaction shots. The only truly annoying part was NPH's Oscars predictions routine - taking that out would have saved five minutes. Sporting events are always considered the best when the winning score occurs in final minutes/seconds, so I find it fitting that the most important awards come at the end. Perhaps it's because I go to bed after 1AM that the show's late finish doesn't trouble me.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 4, 2015 at 2:01 p.m.

    The producer seemed to be tripping all over him/herself/themselves.

  4. Michele Volpe from Media Source Solutions, March 4, 2015 at 4:27 p.m.

    I agree with Marcelo. I've thought this way for years. Saving the "best for last" approach makes me pay less attention to all the other awards in-between. And they deserve their day in the sun at the Oscars. Let's start a petition for them to hire Steve.

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