Organizers of the Academy Awards are ironing out the logistics of moving the ceremony up to late January or early February starting in 2012, and the potentially accelerated schedule means Oscar voters may be watching contending films -- and voting for the winners -- on their laptops.
Next year's ceremony will be held Feb. 27, but an earlier date could allow the academy to steal back some of the thunder from other award shows and boost TV ratings. But any date switch -- which has yet to be approved by the academy -- has been complicated by the NFL, which is considering adding two games to its pro football schedule. That could create a television scheduling gridlock between the Oscars and the league's conference championships or Super Bowl.
"There are only a limited number of Sundays in January and February," Bruce Davis, the executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said Monday.
In their ongoing discussions about advancing the ceremony by about a month starting in 2012, academy officials tentatively have decided that nominations for foreign-language movies could be announced later than the main group of nominees. Such a delay would be necessary because members of a special academy committee have to consider all of the eligible films -- last year there were 65 -- before assembling a shortlist for the final round of voting.
Because there may not be sufficient time to mail out DVDs and ballots, the academy is looking for solutions on the Internet. A committee is examining how balloting for the nominations and awards can be done online without opening the voting process to tampering, and how movies can be distributed to members around the globe securely.
The academy said in June that it was considering moving the 2012 ABC broadcast from February to January.
A task force headed by academy President Tom Sherak has been meeting to figure out if such a move is feasible, and the academy has informed ABC of the possible date change. The network did not object.
"It's not a done deal yet," Sherak said. "I think we would like to do it. Progress is being made, but we don't have it all right just yet."
In a crowded field
As it stands, the Oscar show is the caboose in a very long award season train. Academy officials worry that the television audience, along with the nominees, are burned out by the time the Oscars are presented two months after the very last eligible films are released.
Next year, the Oscars will follow Jan. 14's Critics' Choice Movie Awards on VH1; Jan. 16's Golden Globe Awards on NBC; Jan. 30's Screen Actors Guild Awards on TNT and TBS; and Feb. 13's British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards on BBC America.
Oscar contenders also attend (and campaign for) a number of nontelevised awards from Hollywood labor unions, including ceremonies hosted by the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America, and several luncheons and dinners where prizes are handed out by local and national film critics' organizations.
"We still are the mother of all awards shows," Sherak said. "But in today's world, everybody wants it now. People don't want to wait. You need to stay relevant."
The academy assumes that even if it changes the date, the Oscars still will be the last movie award show because other award shows will move up in response. Still, even a few weeks could help the ceremony, organizers say.
"I think some people feel it has lost some of its energy, and we're looking for energy," Davis said.
The academy's primary source of revenue comes from selling ABC the rights to the telecast.
During the academy's 2008-2009 fiscal year, $73.7 million -- or more than 90% of its total income -- came from the television broadcasts, according to tax filings. The academy spent more than $23 million to stage the Oscars, the Governors Ball and other events related to its glitzy award season.
Because of lower TV ratings in recent years, the Oscars have not been as lucrative for ABC as they once were. In response, the academy has made several tweaks in the ceremony, such as increasing the number of best picture nominees from five to 10 to include more mainstream movies. And the date has already been moved up; the 2003 ceremony was held in late March, and some past shows were in April.
Academy officials also abolished a prohibition against running movie ads during the Oscar telecast and moved the honorary awards out of the televised ceremony.
Ratings for the 2010 show, the first to feature 10 best picture finalists, were up 14%, with 41.3 million people tuning in -- the largest audience since 2005. This year, the average price of a 30-second spot was $1.4 million (up slightly from 2009), according to Kantar Media, which tracks ad spending. From 2006 to 2008, ABC was charging more than $1.6 million per spot.