No Academy Country For Broadcast TV Networks

The Oscars had the lowest ratings in its history -- thanks to the broadcast's focus on a bunch of critically favored, but barely seen, theatrical movies . With that in mind, perhaps it's time for ABC to grab the rights to the Spirit Awards.

The Spirit Awards are traditionally given out a day before the Oscars, on a Saturday, in a makeshift tent in a parking lot on the beach in Santa Monica. The awards celebrate those promising independent movies and artists. It currently airs on IFC (live) and AMC (rebroadcast and edited).

Increasingly the movies and artists honored by the Spirit Awards play a big role in the Oscars the next day -- with many films being nominated for both. It's like the NBA All-Star Weekend. The Spirit Awards merely whet your appetite -- like the slam dunk contest, or the All-Star rookie game.

The big studios are grooving on safe, big-budget movies with thin story lines, which means less-creative and thus fewer Oscar-worthy movies.

The major studios will instead continue to hand the more cerebral projects to their respective film boutiques -- Fox Searchlight, Disney's Miramax, Paramount's Vantage, Universal Pictures' Focus Features, and Warner Independent. Big-time talent like George Clooney will continue to flex their acting chops in these movies once a year - while grabbing bigger dollars doing "Ocean's 27."

I'm not advocating ABC abandon the Oscars. Far from it. Thirty-two million viewers for one Sunday night in February remains a good deal. But with the Spirit Awards, ABC can offer sort of make-goods for all those advertisers in future years that will spend $1.8 million, $1.9 million or more for a 30-second spot for slowly decreasing Oscar viewership.

Not only that, but during the Spirit Awards, perhaps ABC could negotiate to sell some advertising packages to movies companies - long banned by the Academy for the Oscar telecast to avoid any hint of favoritism.

Perhaps at the very least the Academy should change these restrictions to help ABC out. Considering the way the Oscars nominations have gone in recent years, big studios are now unlikely to advertise those smallish Academy-Award-nominated movies during the show.

Given the high advertising price of the televising commercials in the Oscars, studios are more likely to spend big TV dollars on the "Spider-Man"s and the "Shrek"s --not for the "There Will Be Blood"s and "The Savages."

ABC should get into the spirit of things.



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