How To Fix The Academy Awards

Does an annual event that is traditionally the highest-rated entertainment telecast on television really need fixing?  The short answer is yes.  The long answer is also yes, if it wants to remain so in today’s splintered media world, and yes if it wants to be more viewer- and advertiser-friendly.

The Academy Awards air this Sunday. I’ve watched them every year since I was a kid, and every year I look forward to it.  But every year I am bored for three-plus hours, and every year I promise myself that next year I’ll tune in after 11 p.m. and just see who wins the top awards.

Some relatively simple changes, however, could revitalize the show and make it more viewer (and advertiser) friendly -- and perhaps reverse the trend that saw its median viewer age rise from 47 to 55+ over the past 10 years.

A recap of last year’s broadcast illustrates some of the problems.

The first acting award, Best Supporting Actress, was presented at about 9:10 pm.  For the next hour and a half, during the peak of prime time, no other acting awards were given out. Instead, we got Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup and Hair Styling, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Animated Short Film, and Animated Feature.  



I was bored just writing that list. These awards are no doubt important to industry insiders, as well as the nominees and their circles of friends and family, but not so much to the general viewing public. I am by no means suggesting eliminating any of these, simply changing the schedule of when they are presented.

At about 10:30 pm, Best Supporting Actor was presented.  Another hour went by before any of the Big Four awards were doled out.  During that time, we got Documentary Short Film, Documentary Feature, Live Action Short, Best Foreign Film, Original Score, and Original Song.

At 11:30 p.m. EST the announcer said that the big acting awards were still to come. Then, as usual, they had to rush through them, giving each less time than some of the minor awards from earlier in the evening.  Best Actress was presented at 11:44, Best Actor at 11:51, and Best Picture at midnight.  It should be noted that the last few awards were part of program segments not nationally rated by Nielsen (which only rates a show up to the final national commercial pod).

There was a time when it was logical to hold back the major awards as a way to keep viewers tuned in. But in today’s media world, particularly with big live events, 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.

Here are some suggestions:

After the broadcast opening sequence, present Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Then present one of the four major awards every 45 minutes.  Other awards can be interspersed during those segments.  For Best Actor, Actress, and Picture, precede the award presentation with two- to three-minute clips of each nominee, which will provide a better picture of each performance and greater anticipation for each award.  They will also serve as great promos for the nominated movies. Viewers could even get a chance to vote online or by phone while watching the clips, and then see their choices online at the end of the show to see how they compare to the actual winners.    

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. Each of these segments can have additional material related to directors, actors, actresses, and movies, respectively.  Each segment can be sponsored by a different advertiser.

The show will flow better, it won’t be nearly as boring, ratings will improve, younger viewers might tune in, and it may actually cause viewers to be interested in seeing some of the nominated movies they missed.  

Some might say that the Oscars’ continued high ratings means the show is doing just fine.  But sometimes things that ain’t broke can still use some fixing.

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