New ‘Popular’ Oscar Scrapped by Film Academy for 2019

Awards

LOS ANGELES — One of the most unpopular decisions the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has ever made was reversed on Thursday: The next Academy Awards will not add a category for achievement in “popular” films after all.

But the concept may not be completely dead.

The Oscars organization said that the creation of a blockbuster category, which it announced last month, “merits further study” and that it remained “committed to celebrating a wide spectrum of movies.”

Dawn Hudson, the academy’s chief executive, said in a statement, “There has been a wide range of reactions to the introduction of a new award, and we recognize the need for further discussion with our members.”

Ms. Hudson added, however, that “we will continue to evolve.”

The academy’s 54-member board voted to rethink the creation of the category at a private meeting on Tuesday night. The decision followed severe blowback from the public and members of the academy over the new category.

Stars like Rob Lowe declared it nothing less than the end of the movie business. Prominent film critics voiced extreme dismay, contending that a desperate academy was pandering and undercutting the prestige of the Oscars. The Twitter masses mocked the academy, suggesting that it might increase ratings by adding categories like hottest onscreen kiss.

What if a movie that many saw as a legitimate best picture contender — the worldwide smash “Black Panther,” for instance — received a nomination for the populist Oscar but not for best overall picture? Would that mean “Black Panther” and films like it were second-class citizens?

Alarmed by plunging television ratings for the Academy Awards, the motion picture organization decided last month to make major changes to its annual Oscar telecast. Starting with the 91st Academy Awards in February, the new category for blockbusters was to be added — an effort to counterbalance an increasing tendency by Oscar voters to honor niche films that most American moviegoers have not seen.

John Bailey, the president of the academy, positioned the new category as an improvement “needed to keep the Oscars and our academy relevant in a changing world.”

The academy also voted to keep the telecast to three hours, which it described as an effort to deliver “a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.” The last Oscars show, in March, stretched nearly four hours. To trim the length, winners in some of the 24 categories will henceforth be presented during commercial breaks, with the winning moments edited and aired later during the live broadcast.

That also caused some grumbling in Hollywood. The academy has not said which ones will be downgraded; more obscure categories like sound editing and mixing are the most likely. The academy will go forward with that plan.

Whether its remedies are the correct ones or not, the academy’s leaders believe they have to take some kind of drastic action: A record low of 26.5 million people watched this year’s telecast, a nearly 20 percent drop from a year earlier. As recently as four years ago, the Academy Awards had an audience of 43.7 million viewers.

The Oscars telecast is a big business, generating 83 percent of the academy’s $148 million in annual revenue. ABC controls broadcast rights for the show until 2028 at a cost of roughly $75 million a year. ABC sought as much as $2.8 million per 30-second commercial for the most recent telecast.

Nose-diving ratings threaten all of that income, not to mention an erosion of the position of the Oscars in comparison with the more freewheeling Golden Globe Awards. A few more years of declines and the Globes will be the higher-rated show.

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