The Oscars will have a new award category next year honouring popular films, in a major shake-up for the most prestigious awards show in the movie industry.
In a letter to members, the Academy of Motion Pictures also said it would present some of the 24 awards during commercial breaks in the televised ceremony, in order to help keep it to three hours. The winning moments would then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.
The 2020 show will also take place approximately two weeks earlier than years past, airing at the beginning of February instead of the end.
“We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world,” Academy President John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson write in the letter.
“We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.”
The changes, which will take effect with the February 2019 ceremony, follow years of declining audiences for the Oscars ceremony. This year’s show, which spanned nearly four hours of live broadcast, attracted a record-low audience of 26m – down 20 per cent from the year before.
The show has also failed to set – or even reflect – public taste in recent years. Winners like “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” getting little box-office attention. Other, more popular movies, such as “Wonder Woman” or “Deadpool,” have been passed over for awards.
The popular film category appeared to be designed to fill that gap, though it received a mixed response online.
“Popular film should… be nominated in general?” tweeted culture critic Ira Madison III. “What’s been defined as Oscar worthy or Oscar bait has been defined by the pretensions of white people.”
New York Times movie critic Manohla Dargis made her opinion clear, tweeting: “What a f***ing stupid, insulting and pathetically desperate change.”
The Academy has also been forced to contend with popular movements affecting the film industry in recent years, and with social justice campaigns targeting the show itself.
The 2016 #OscarsSoWhite campaign, for instance, drew attention to the lack of Oscar winners and nominees of colour. The Academy responded by changing its member admission processes, promising to double the number of female and minority members by 2020.
This year, many presenters paid tribute to the #metoo movement, which raised awareness of sexual harassment and the treatment of women in the film industry. Still, some were unhappy with the number of accused abusers who were celebrated at the show.
The changes to the coming broadcasts were discussed by the Academy’s board of governors, staff, members, and various working groups, and approved by the full board, according to the letter.