Academy Adds ‘Popular Film’ Award, Vows to Shorten Oscars

Board of Governors pledges a three-hour ceremony and decides to hand out some awards during commercial breaks

88th Oscars Academy Awards Wednesday Rehearsals

In an attempt to boost sagging ratings for the Oscars, the Academy has taken dramatic and likely controversial steps to overhaul the annual awards ceremony, promising a three-hour show, moving some awards into commercial breaks and adopting a new category devoted to popular films.

The timeline for the 92nd Academy Awards in 2020 was also moved up, from its original February 24 date to Sunday, February 9. This will be the earliest the Oscars have ever taken place.

The changes were detailed in an email sent to Academy members on Wednesday morning from AMPAS President John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson. The rules were adopted by the Academy’s Board of Governors at a meeting on Tuesday night.

The most dramatic of the changes are the decision to hand out “select categories” during commercial breaks, and then edit those presentations to be shown later in the telecast. While critics have pushed for years for the Oscars to streamline its telecast by presenting some of the 24 categories off the air, the board is dominated by representatives of below-the-line categories who seemed loath to allow any of the categories to essentially be designated as less important than others.

Which categories will be given out during commercials will be decided in what should be a contentious process.

Equally dramatic: the creation of a category designed to salute “outstanding achievement in popular film.” In the past, the Academy has resisted splitting or creating categories to increase the recognition of the kind of films that might draw a larger TV audience — but the 2009 expansion of the Best Picture category from five to 10 nominees didn’t substantially change the kind of films that were being nominated, which is often the determining factor when it comes to Oscar ratings.

The telecast hit a new low for ratings in March of this year.

The new category should guarantee that, if nothing else, “Black Panther” will be nominated next year — but it also comes with a risk. If it is seen as a second Best Picture category for movies that people have actually seen, it could dilute the prestige of the real Best Picture category, and hurt the credibility of the Academy as a body devoted to honoring the quality rather than the success of films.

The letter from Bailey and Hudson said that “additional details, eligibility requirements and other key details” about the new category “will be forthcoming,” without specifying a timeline.

The email, in its entirety:

Dear Member,

Last night, the Board of Governors met to elect new board officers, and discuss and approve significant changes to the Oscars telecast.

The Board of Governors, staff, Academy members, and various working groups spent the last several months discussing improvements to the show.

Tonight, the Board approved three key changes:

1. A three-hour Oscars telecast

We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.

To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.

2. New award category

We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.

3. Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars

The date of the 92nd Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.

The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.

We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.

We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.

John Bailey and Dawn Hudson