Roadmap for Fixing the Academy Awards Ceremony and Show

Brad MarcusNormally I use this space to talk about Website Marketing and how to grow your business using the latest tools and know-how. But I am also a movie lover at heart and what I’m seeing on what should be the biggest night celebrating American film drives me to write.

What can be done to make the Oscar relevant again? A question wrestled every year by the motion picture academy is how to make a 3 hour event be the most talked about thing on Monday morning, drive millions upon millions of people to the TV for the night and make that translate into an increase of hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. The problem with the yearly solutions is that each one is an attempt at a band-aid fix. Yes, having Billy Crystal return for another hosting gig is very nice, but it’s a solution for 2012, not 2013, 2014, or 2015. The problem is that the Academy is and always has been completely out of tune with the American public. How else do you explain 1983’s Gandhi winning over ET or Slumdog Millionaire over the not even nominated Dark Knight.

Now, a lot is made over the fact that the average Oscar voter is a white male, 57 years old. In most polling figures I’ve seen, American aged 50 and over go to the movies more often than any other age group. I know, you always thought teenagers went the most times to the movies and in the summer, that’s true. Teens will go to the same movie over and over, so they spend more per capita than any other film goer. Hollywood sinks a ton of money into summer blockbuster films, films that most 50-somethings don’t care about, nor do most Academy voters, which brings us back to the main question of how to make the show, and the industry in general, more relevant.

Americans today are watching more movies in more ways than ever before. We, as a nation, are also more integrated with each other, more intimate since the emergence of social media platforms, especially Facebook, Netflix and Twitter. Wait, you say, Netflix is not a social media platform; it’s a movie streaming service. Well, you’re partly right. Very soon, constraints will be removed so that Netflix will be integrating with Facebook and all those movies you stream and comment on and rate will be shared with your Facebook friends. A word of mouth explosion is about to happen and Hollywood is not prepared in the least for it.

For the Oscars to become relevant in the 21st century, the motion picture academy must shrug off its antiquated, 20th century thinking. More people watch movies in their homes than in theaters. Box office as a percentage of the overall movie business continues to drop. It’s been less than 50% of total movie revenue since 1988. The summer movie season used to begin on Memorial Day and last through Labor Day. The first “summer blockbuster”, Jaws, opened in late June. Today, the summer season starts the first Friday in May. This year we get “The Avengers”, probably the biggest, most expensive movie of the year. The marketing, the merchandising are already in full gear with Avengers-themed Easter baskets on shelves at Target already. Why, I ask rhetorically, was there no new Avengers trailer shown on the Oscar broadcast? Oh, a new one is ready and I’ve seen ads that it will appear on ITunes on February 29th. But why, when most people who really care about movies are watching, does Paramount decide not to premiere its tentpole movie trailer? I’ll tell you why. It’s because the target audience for The Avengers, teens 12-19 are not watching the show. With an 8:30pm East Coast start on a school night, with the Best Picture award handed out at midnight, with a show geared towards an average viewer of 57 years old, kids don’t care.

OK, enough bitching. Here are my bullet points for Hollywood.

1. Open the nomination to balloting by moviegoers in the theater and on smartphones. Movie-goer votes count as 25% of an academy vote, so it’s not a mere popularity contest. One vote per device.
2. Voting for the actual awards also influenced by popular vote. In theater ballots as well as smartphone apps. One vote per person. Votes accrue importance over a 5 year period. 10% the first year, up to 25% of an academy member vote.
3. Block out time for each studio to premier new trailers. One trailer for each commercial break plus a compilation for 10 minutes at the very end of the show of the top 10 anticipated films according to IMDB’s ratings.
4. Hold special screenings at the major theater chains of all nominated films at least a few weeks before the show. The trouble with this year’s show was that the clear favorite and eventual winner wasn’t playing in many towns across the country.
5. Stop trying to be hip. Billy Crystal throwing out iPad references was sad. Go with the rule “If you have to try to be hip, you’re not” Hosts are less important than the overall celebration of the movies.
6. Give one lifetime achievement awards during the show and if no one is really worthy, then do a tribute to someone who is dead. You can always find a film or actor or director who is 100 years old or 50 or 75. This year is the 100th anniversary of MGM, great way to spend 8 minutes.
7. Relegate the short subject awards to the same show as the technical awards. Truly, no one cares. Same thing with Sound editing. No one understands it.

The Oscars should be both a celebration of the prior year in film as well as the medium in general. It should show what we all want to see, a healthy and exciting preview of coming attractions while reminding us of those carefree days spend in a darkened palace sharing a communal laugh, scream or cry with 500 strangers. Movies are magic which entwines our lives. The Academy Awards and the show should reflect that. THAT is how you fix the Oscars. Hollywood, call me.