An Earlier Oscars Looks Likely – Just Not for 2013

Earlier Oscar nominations will allow the Academy to test its new electronic voting system

The Academy isn't ready to move the Oscars quite yet. But they've definitely thought about it.

That's the takeaway from Wednesday's AMPAS announcement that the 85th Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, Feb. 24, the typical last-Sunday-in-February slot for an Oscar show, but nominations for the golden statuettes will be revealed much earlier than usual.

2012 Academy Awards showThe Academy's Board of Governors set the Oscar date Tuesday night after years of speculation that they would move the ceremony to early February or even late January in an attempt to trim the marathon awards season and keep the nominated movies fresher in the minds of potential viewers.

There was good reason to think a move might be imminent: An Academy committee has been studying the feasibility of an earlier Oscars for more than a year, and AMPAS announced in January that it would introduce online voting for next year's awards.

Despite all that, they stuck with a late February ceremony.

Also read: The Oscars Go Digital – Finally – With Online Voting

But here's a red flag that they are taking the idea of an earlier show very seriously: Oscar nominations will be announced on Jan. 15, a week to 10 days earlier than usual.

That will make it the earliest that nominations have ever been announced, and will leave a 40-day gap between the nominations and the Oscar show, stretching out a period that already feels endless.

This will allow the Academy to test the effectiveness of electronic voting and lay the groundwork for eventually moving the show forward as well.

"We couldn't announce the nominations very much earlier in January and keep the calendar year the eligibility period without electronic voting," AMPAS COO Ric Robertson told TheWrap in February, adding that there were reasons to go electronic beyond simply accelerating the Oscar calendar.

Also read: Oscar Season 2012: Why Isn't It Over Yet?

But they're taking all the steps they need to take to make a move possible.

Step one is electronic voting. Step two is an expanded use of streaming to allow voters to see the eligible films in a timely manner: Academy governor Michael Moore recently told TheWrap that streaming is in the works in the documentary categories, and AMPAS officials said they're making similar push in the short film and foreign-language categories.

Step three is the earlier nominations, which will come only two weeks after the end of the year and will necessitate a ballot deadline of the first week of January (unless the accountants at PwC bite the bullet and tally the votes electronically rather than by hand).

And step four would be to finally move the Oscars a week or two earlier.

It's a long, slow process, but that's how the Academy does things.

Also read: Tom Sherak on the Old-Fashioned, Billy Crystalized Oscars: 'We Are Who We Are'

In the meantime, the stepped-up nomination deadline could lead to a slight reshuffling of release schedules. Will studios want to use the time-honored technique of Christmas or New Year's Eve releases for key Oscar contenders if ballots are due by Jan. 6 or so? That's cutting it awfully close.

And if Oscar campaign rules remain the same, it could lead to an even more frenzied round of parties, screenings and Q&As before the nominations, when such events are unrestricted – and an even quieter post-nomination stretch, when most of them are forbidden.

Given the craziness of the pre-nom period this year, of course, increasing the length of the no-party period could in itself be a reason for making the change.

As for the other  potential Oscar move, Wednesday's announcement that the next Oscars will take place at the Hollywood & Highland Center doesn't mean that the Academy isn't still considering leaving the theater formerly known as Kodak.

When AMPAS exercised an escape clause in its contract with the theater in December, it gave itself the right to negotiate a deal elsewhere – but that deal would take place after two more years at Hollywood & Highland, so the site of next year's Oscars was never in question.

AMPAS president Tom Sherak told TheWrap that the Academy is in negotiations for a new deal with the CIM Group, the owners of Hollywood & Highland. It also has the right to consider other offers.