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The Oscars have a serious problem. For the last several years, the ratings for the broadcast have been pretty bad. Last year, the ratings were as low as they've ever been, and while the Academy was ready to try numerous things to remedy the problem, it has since gone back on pretty much all of those changes. However, the fact that it did could spell potential disaster for the future of the awards show, as another bad showing in the ratings this weekend will almost certainly mean massive changes next year.
The Academy announced a number of potential changes and goals several months ago following the abysmal performance in the Oscars ratings last year. One of the major items was the creation of a new award that would somehow focus on blockbuster movies, a way to make sure that the films that fill the most seats at the theaters actually got recognized at the Oscars.
There was never much explanation as to how such an award would work and what the criteria would be, and the response was instantly negative. The feeling was that it would create a second tier Best Picture, and if a movie was good enough to be recognized at all, it could be done within the existing awards. Eventually, it was decided that the award would not be presented this year, though the door is still open for it to show up in the future.
One of the other major goals for this year's show was that the telecast should be limited to three hours. In order to help reach that goal, it was reported that only two of the five songs nominated for Best Original Song would be performed. This also received strong backlash and it was eventually announced that all five songs would be performed (though the word is that "All the Stars" from Black Panther will not be performed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA due to scheduling issues), though not in their entirety, and most not by the artists that performed them in the films.
The next idea was that not all awards would actually be given live, and that some would be presented during commercials. This was also met with an expected backlash, especially since two of the awards that were going to be given during breaks were to be for Best Editing and Cinematography, two pretty key aspects of film making. The Academy has since reversed this decision as well.
While the reversing of these decisions is best for the Academy Awards as a respectable awards show, it's unclear what sort of an impact they will have on the telecast of those awards.
It's possible that with all of the attention that the Oscars have received this year, the televised ceremony could see a ratings uptick, if only because people are curious just how the show will progress. Will the show be better without a host or will it be an absolute train wreck? People who might otherwise not bother might check out the show just to see if it works.
What's more likely, however, is that ratings will fall someplace close to where they did last year. Maybe they'll be up slightly, but not by a lot. They could just as easily dip even lower.
Save the fact that the show will have no host this year, this year's show will likely look a lot like last year's show, which means that if ratings don't improve, there's a good chance the lack of changes this year will be used to justify major changes in the future.
The argument is pretty simple. We tried it your way, it didn't work. Now we're doing it our way.
The Academy wanted to make numerous changes and it was talked out of that, implying that a lot of people cared. But in the end, nothing changed on the viewership side. That means, at least according to this logic, that for viewership to change, the broadcast will have to do things differently.
One of the things the Academy is really working on doing is shrinking the length of the show. If this year's show is another four-hour marathon, then the possibility that awards could be handed out during commercials in 2020 will be back, and it will be less likely the Academy will back down if it see the ratings as supporting the decision.
The Oscars are going to see changes; nothing goes on forever without changing. What I'm really afraid of is that the longer we wait to see anything change, the more drastic those changes will be when they actually come. Everything that the Oscars went back on will return to the table, and there's no reason to believe those will be the only proposed changes. Entirely new bad ideas will be proposed.
And let's be honest, the ratings at the Oscars are unlikely to change, even with the changes that are being proposed. Black Panther's Best Picture nomination notwithstanding, the movies nominated for awards this year are still not the movies that draw crowds to theaters. The average moviegoer doesn't care about them. People might tune in to watch Queen open the show, but I'm not sure anybody will hang around afterward that wasn't going to watch the show anyway.
I almost wish the Academy had just gone ahead with some of their terrible ideas, because the ratings wouldn't have improved and at least once these ideas are tried and fail, then the powers that be would understand they're on the wrong track.
A small change like not having all the Best Original Song nominees perform can be fixed the next year without much of a problem. Larger changes however, once they happen, they could very easily become permanent, even if they don't actually fix the ratings problem. A badly thought-out Best Blockbuster Film award is unlikely to happen one year and then disappear forever. If it ever shows up, it's going to be around for a while.
The battle over the Oscars and its television ratings may not have resulted in any major changes this year, but this battle isn't over yet. Unless a lot of people decide to sit through the entire show just to see if Black Panther wins Best Picture, ratings aren't going to see a major improvement, and if things don't change we'll be right back here in about 11 months. And next time, whatever changes are proposed will be much more likely to actually happen.