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The Real Reason Why The Oscars Introduced A New 'Popular Film' Category

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Things are changing at the Oscars. Yesterday, the Academy, the awards show’s voting body, announced three major switch-ups following this year’s ceremony. The telecast will be limited to just three hours; from 2020, the air date will fall earlier in February and finally, a brand new category is being introduced, designed to recognise ‘outstanding achievement in popular film.’

It’s that last change that has proved most contentious so far. What, after all, constitutes a ‘popular film?’ Surely popular success doesn’t preclude critical acclaim (after all, films like Get Out and La La Land were box office smashes that also managed to garner a handful of Oscar nominations). And isn’t the introduction of another category, one that doesn’t quite measure up to the traditional Best Picture, just a consolation prize, allowing the Academy to continue to overlook genuine achievement in genre film-making? Some headlines have already excitedly labelled this new trophy the Black Panther award – but wouldn’t it be better to see that film compete in the Best Picture category, like it surely deserves to.

However, it seems that there's some major commercial considerations at play here. As Variety reports, the Academy inked a deal with Disney-ABC Television Group which would see the network broadcast the award show each year until 2028 – a serious long-term commitment, given the rate at which our viewing habits are shifting. It's thought that Disney pays the Academy around $70 million a year to broadcast the Oscars, and though the media giant has reportedly been pushing for format changes for years, 2018’s ceremony was a watershed moment. When the ratings came in for this year’s telecast, reporting a precipitous 19 percent decline in viewers since the previous year and a 24 percent drop in the 18 to 49 demographic, Disney-ABC made a handful of strong ‘recommendations’ for future shows, three of which have been implemented.

It just so happens that one of those recommendations – the crowd pleasing ‘popular movie’ category – also conveniently doubles up as a potential showcase for Disney’s hottest properties (Marvel? Disney. Star Wars? Disney. Pixar? Disney). Happy coincidence or clever marketing ploy? You decide...

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