How to Make The Oscars More Viewer-Friendly

Every year I look forward to watching the Academy Awards (which airs this year on March 4).  And every year I ask myself the same question: “Is it always this boring?”  I invariably find myself answering “yes.”  And every year I forget the previous year’s telecast and look forward to the show all over again.

A recap of last year’s show illustrates why this is not exactly a made-for-tv event.

The show began at 8:30 p.m.  After a 15-minute opening segment, the award for Best Supporting Actor was presented.  The following awards were then presented over the next two hours during the peak of prime time, when television viewing is at its highest:  Makeup and Hairstyling, Costume Design, Documentary Feature, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Governor’s Award, Best Supporting Actress, Foreign Film, Animated Short Film, Animated Feature Film, Production Design, Visual Effects, Film Editing, Documentary Short Subject, Live Action Short Film, Science and Technology awards, and Cinematography.



When prime time came to an end, past 11 p.m., it still wasn’t time to present the big four awards.  We still had to get through Original Score, Original Song, In Memoriam, and Original Screenplay.  At 11:36 pm the announcer said, “When we return, the biggest awards of the night.”  Best Director was presented at 11:41 p.m., Best Actor at 11:46 p.m., Best Actress at 11:55 p.m., and Best Picture at 12:02 p.m.

There was a time when it was logical to hold back the major awards as a way to keep viewers tuned in.   Thirty years ago, there were basically only three broadcast networks, much fewer cable networks, no streaming options, no social media, and very little original programming opposite the Academy Awards.  But in today’s media world, it is counterproductive to wait until after prime time to present the most important awards.

Social media often keeps people tuned in to big live events.  Had the major awards been spread out over the entire telecast, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like, would have seen significantly more Oscar-related activity, and kept more people discussing the show.

 While the bulk of the awards ordinarily presented between 9 and 11 p.m, are no doubt important to the industry at large and friends and family of the winners, they are not the main draws for the average TV viewer.  With final awards spread out throughout the show, there would be time to spend more than just a few minutes on each category, and kept viewers much more interested in the broadcast.

Some relatively simple changes could revitalize the show and make it more viewer- and advertiser-friendly.  Here are my suggestions:

Have a separate hour-long show from 8 to 9 p.m. for those “other” awards, with a different host). That can feature longer clips of how costume design, makeup, production design, sound mixing, etc., are done, which may be interesting to a lot of people.

The main awards show can then air from 9 to 11:30 p.m., and include Best Picture and Director, all the acting and screenplay awards, as well the Original Score and Song.

As for the flow of the show: After the opening sequence, present Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.  Then present one of the four major awards every 30 minutes – Best Director at 9:45, Best Actor at 10:15. Best Actress at 10:45, and Best Picture at 11:15.  

For all the acting awards and Best Picture, precede the award presentation with tw-o to three-minute clips of each nominee.  This will provide a better picture of each performance and greater anticipation for each award.  It will also serve as great promotion for the nominated movies.

Each segment for Best Director, Actor, Actress, and Picture can be sponsored by a different advertiser.  Then give viewers a chance to vote online and by phone, and then show their choices at the end of the show (or on an after-show) to see how viewers’ votes compared to the actual winners.

If these suggestions are implemented, the show will flow better, viewer and social-media interest will be elevated, ratings will improve, younger viewers might tune in, and people may be interested in seeing some of the nominated movies they missed.

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