The Academy's announcement of its key awards dates on Tuesday, which moved Oscar nominations to a historically-early Jan. 10, changed the center of gravity of the awards race. It will also lead to more parties and screenings in November and December, more questions about the security and confidentiality of those sacrosanct Oscar ballots and less time for voters to see the hundreds of movies in competition.
But it will give both voters and viewers more time to see the 40 or 50 nominated films between the time they're announced on Jan. 10 and the Oscar show on Feb. 24 – and that, Academy COO Ric Robertson told TheWrap on Tuesday, is the main reason for the newly adjusted calendar.
"Over the last couple of months, we've talked a lot about the pros and cons of extending the window between the nominations announcement and the show," said Robertson (left). "The key is that we're trying to give our members, and the public, as much time as possible to see the nominated films."
The change puts the nominations announcement five days earlier than was originally planned and shortens the time that PricewaterhouseCoopers has to count the ballots to only six days, down from the usual 10.
That shorter period is possible, Robertson said, because PwC will be doing some of the counting electronically rather than by hand, a by-product of the new system in which, for the first time, Academy voters will cast their ballots on their home computers or mobile devices.
"It's been a very careful decision-making process," said Robertson of the move to online voting. "We had to hit a number of markers in the last six months, and we got good feedback from our members."
But others have questioned the ability of any online voting system to be truly secure. "Unfortunately, leading computer scientists around the world who have looked at Internet voting systems … say the technology is vulnerable to a variety of cyber attacks — no matter how many layers of encryption there are — and risks producing a fraudulent outcome without anyone necessarily realizing it," wrote Andrew Gumbel in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times.
"Computer experts on both sides of the Atlantic are unequivocal: There is no known way to have a secret ballot, keeping the voter entirely separate from his or her vote, and also to conduct a meaningful audit ensuring that nothing went awry," Gumbel added.
Robertson, though, insisted that PwC and the voting firm Everyone Counts have been able to do just that. "We're taking extraordinary measures," he said, "and we're very confident that we're taking every step imaginable to insure the security and confidentiality of our vote."
For members who are not comfortable voting online, he said, the Academy will have staffed electronic voting stations in its Beverly Hills and Hollywood offices in Los Angeles, and also in New York and London.
"We don't think it will change the level of member participation," he said, "and we hope that in the long run it will increase it."
The date change moves the nominations announcement to Thursday instead of the usual Tuesday – a day that was chosen, said Robertson, at a time when journalism was focused on print rather than online, and ads needed to be in by Wednesday to get into newspaper's weekend entertainment supplements.
The move also put the Oscar nominations on the same day as DGA feature-film nominations. The DGA promptly rescheduled its nominations for Jan. 8.
One potentially enormous side-effect of the move is the impact it could have on the parties that surround the Golden Globes. The Globes will take place on Jan. 13 – and by moving the Oscar nominations from Jan. 15 to Jan. 10, the Academy has turned the Globes into a post-nomination event, when much stricter campaign rules are in effect.
One new rule instituted earlier this year: "[W]hile guilds and other awards organizations may hold non-screening events after the nominations announcement, this rule now specifies that film companies may not use such occasions as opportunities to sponsor promotional events that would otherwise violate Academy regulations."
If AMPAS were to take the hard line, that rule could conceivably prevent studios from inviting Academy members to the many soirées that make Globes weekend the most party-heavy weekend on the awards calendar.
But Robertson said that the Academy was not going to be a party pooper. "We're going to deal with that, and identify events that have some sort of legacy status," he promised. "We don't want to shut down the party business that weekend."