The Oscars are getting a new awards category called “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film”, which will be introduced starting with the 2019 ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday.
In a letter sent out to Academy members, newly-reelected Academy president John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson detailed multiple changes that would impact the Oscars going forward. The biggest of those is the creation of the new category alongside reducing the length of the telecast and tweaking the date for the 2020 edition, which has been moved up two weeks.
“Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” is set to become the 25th awards category at the Academy Awards – the official name of the event – as it seeks to be more “relevant in a changing world” and boost viewership ratings, which plummeted to a record-low in the US this year with just 26.5 million. International figures aren’t easily available but India is one of the biggest foreign markets for the Oscars, with a reported 4.5 million viewers a few years ago.
It’s also why the Academy wishes to make the ceremony shorter, bringing it down from nearly four hours to three hours, to make it “more accessible for our viewers worldwide.” The Oscars will achieve that by presenting select categories during commercial breaks – it hasn’t been decided which those will be – which will then be “edited and aired later in the broadcast”.
Both those changes are bound to create controversy and have already been met with backlash on social media, with people suggesting the new ‘popular’ category is just a way for the Academy to draw in viewers of blockbuster movies that have much larger audiences but still keep them separate from the Best Picture pool in an attempt to retain its prestigious nature.
For what it’s worth, the Academy has said that films are eligible for both categories: Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film and the Academy Award for Best Picture. (More details, including eligibility requirements, will be revealed at a further date.) Whether that will actually ever turn out to be the case is something we will only learn at the Oscars to come.
The 2019 Oscars are set to take place on February 24, 2019.