Academy Awards add category for popular films, drop some awards from live telecast
Oscars/YouTube

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced major changes to its Oscar ceremony and telecast: A new category for popular films has been added, and some of the lower-profile awards will be dropped from the telecast. The changes will go into effect for the 91st annual Academy Awards ceremony, which is set to take place in Los Angeles on Feb. 24, 2019. ABC will have the U.S. telecast of the show. According to Variety, the changes were first revealed to Academy members in a message sent by the Academy's leadership.

In the message, the Academy said it will set the definition and rules for "popular films" at a later date. However, this category will presumably be for movies that are big box-office hits. In addition, it hasn't been announced yet which award categories will be dropped from the Academy Awards telecast, but those categories will instead be handed out during commercial breaks, and the winners will be briefly listed sometime during the telecast. Several other awards shows—including the Emmys, the Grammys and the Tonys—also use this condensed format. It's unknown at this point if the Oscars will include snippets of the winners' speeches for the awards that are cut from the telecast.

In addition, the Academy said that as of 2019, it will have a strict three-hour time limit for the Oscar telecast, which in the past has stretched to four hours or longer. 

The news comes after the 2018 Academy Awards, which aired March 4 on ABC, was the lowest-rated in the show's history, with about 26.5 million U.S. viewers. The Academy is also trying to broaden its appeal by having a more diverse membership. As previously reported, a record-breaking 928 people, many of them women and people of color, were invited to be Academy members this year.

The Academy has previously attempted to broaden its Oscar appeal by expanding the maximum number of films that can be nominated for Best Picture from five to 10. That policy went into effect for the 2010 Academy Awards.

For many decades, the winner of Best Picture used to be a blockbuster film from a major studio. Examples include 1990's "Dances With Wolves," 1994's "Forrest Gump" and 1997's "Titanic." The tide began to turn at the 1999 Oscars when the independent film "Shakespeare in Love" won Best Picture over the major-studio blockbuster "Saving Private Ryan."

Since then, it has become even more prevalent for films from independent studios to win Best Picture, while the major studios have tended to win in the lower-profile technical categories, such as visual effects, cinematography, film editing and sound editing. ("The Hurt Locker" versus "Avatar" battle at the 2010 Oscars is a prime example of this contrast.) In addition, winners in the categories for actors and actresses have usually been from independent films in recent years. The one Oscar category that major studios have consistently won for decades is Best Animated Feature, which in recent years has been dominated by Disney and Disney-owned Pixar, with occasional wins from DreamWorks.

However, the addition of a "popular films" category at the Oscars should pave the way for movies that are normally shut of out of the Best Picture category to get their own category in which they are declared "the best." That means a lot of big genre films—such as superhero movies, horror films, sci-fi films, action films, comedies and aminated films—will no doubt be competing for nominations in this new "popular films" category. Most of the biggest movie hits in any given year come from major studios, so the addition of a "popular films" category is sure to have supporters and critics. 

In other news, the Academy has announced that cinematographer John Bailey has been elected to a second four-year term as president of the Academy. This is also Bailey's 15th year as a governor representing the Cinematographers Branch. In addition, the Academy has elected these officers to its Board of Governors:

• Lois Burwell, First Vice President (chair, Awards and Events Committee)
• Sid Ganis, Vice President (chair, Museum Committee)
• Larry Karaszewski, Vice President (chair, Preservation and History Committee)
• Nancy Utley, Vice President (chair, Education and Outreach Committee)
• Jim Gianopulos, Treasurer (chair, Finance Committee)
• David Rubin, Secretary (chair, Membership and Administration Committee)

Burwell, Gianopulos, Rubin and Utley were re-elected. Ganis, who returned to the board this year, served as Academy president from 2005-2009. Karaszewski is a first-time Academy board member.

The Academy has also announced that the 92nd annual Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Feb. 9, 2020. The Oscar ceremony has traditionally been held in late February or early March as the culmination of the movie awards season. The Grammys are usually held in early-to-mid February. It remains to be seen how the Grammys and other award shows will be affected by the Oscar ceremony being pushed up to early February.