Winslet, the Academy Award winner for best actress, arrives at the Vanity… (Rich Schmitt, AFP/Getty…)
Oscar is back on the March.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences plans to stage Hollywood's big event on March 7, rather than in late February, to avoid a collision with the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.
"Why have two gigantic, spectacular events happen on the same day, particularly these days?" academy President Sid Ganis asked Wednesday. "The Olympics have some 237 events and we are one big event, so it was easier for us to move and we were happy to do it."
The switch prevents the Oscars, which are broadcast on ABC, and the Olympics, which air on NBC, from stepping on each other's toes in terms of audience and advertisers. "You can't have them cannibalizing each other's audience and the Olympics has always been the elephant in the room," said Shari Anne Brill, programming director for the ad firm Carat.
Back in 2004, the academy moved the Oscars from their longtime traditional perch in March up to February, to shorten what had become a prolonged and costly award season. An award campaign for a single film can cost a studio as much as $50 million.
Three years ago, the academy also pushed the show into March to get out of the way of the Olympics. The academy noted it had planned to return the Oscars to February in 2011.
Some of those involved in Oscar campaigns welcomed next year's move.
"Having an extra week is something that's helpful, especially with late-coming movies," said Barry Dale Johnson, Oscar consultant for ID PR. Academy "members have more time to see movies," he said.
Higher audience awareness for the nominated films could in turn lead to higher TV ratings for the show, noted Tony Angellotti, an Oscar consultant for Universal Pictures and Pixar.
The Oscar telecast ratings have been on the decline in recent years as more arty, less populist fare has dominated the races. This year, "Slumdog Millionaire" swept the awards, and though ratings were up from the previous year, with an average of 36.3 million viewers tuning in to see Hugh Jackman as host, the show remained the third-least-watched in the last 20 years.
Angellotti said the new date could also help Oscar marketers shave their TV costs because the TV advertising rates drop after the holidays. "December is very expensive for TV ads. Now ads can also run in January," he says.
Yet some executives have preferred the abbreviated season because it tended to level the playing field between the studios with deep pockets and the smaller companies with less resources for promotion.
"The short window has made it a much cleaner race, much more about the movies and less about manipulation," said Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics. "Since they tightened the dates, there's been much less lobbying because it's not effective."
Ganis and several Oscar strategists suggested that the Oscar date shift will probably cause a tweaking of schedules, with other award shows and events possibly moving back on the calendar. DVD releases of Oscar-nominated films will also most likely change slightly because, as Bernard points out, "a lot of people are maneuvering their DVD releases around the Oscars."
February is shaping up to be a big TV month with CBS' broadcast of the Super Bowl on Feb. 7 and the Olympics running Feb. 12 through Feb. 28. Next year's Olympics are expected to be a highly rated affair because the Games will be held in the same time zone as California, eliminating many of the time-delay issues, which tend to lower viewers' interest.
Another marquee Los Angeles award show is moving to accommodate the Olympic Games. The Grammy Awards telecast is shifting next year from February to Jan. 31, which shortens the eligibility date by a month. The eligibility year for the Grammys will run from Oct. 1, 2008, through Aug. 31, 2009.
*--* 2009 Dec. 1 Screen credits forms due Dec. 28 Nomination ballots mailed 2010 Jan. 23 Polls close Feb. 2 Nominations announced Feb. 10 Final ballots mailed Feb. 15 Nominees luncheon Feb. 20 Scientific and Technical Awards March 2 Final ballots due March 7 Academy Awards ceremony *--*