The Academy enjoyed their 6% increase in ratings (from an all time low) this year, and are looking to roll with that momentum. In an effort to broaden the audience for the ceremony, they have announced an increase in Best Picture nominees, going from 5 to 10. The Academy has modified the nominee count a number of times in it’s history, but not since the 1940s have we seen double digits. This change will only be affecting the Best Picture category.*
There is no doubt that this is a decision motivated by economics. Advertising is going to be tougher this year, and a CNBC article specifically mentions companies like GM, a traditionally large sponsor, likely pulling back (or out). Obviously the Academy is hoping to compensate by creating “more interested in the show this year, just because it might very well include more populist movies.” By reconsidering the balance between the esoteric concerns of (arguable) cinematic quality and widespread appeal, the Academy might be able to hang on to advertisers and bring in new viewers**.
Throwing subtlety to the wind, Sidney Ganis, Academy President, specifically name-dropped The Dark Knight when explaining their decision. Considering the ratings boost popular nominees like Titanic and LOTR: Return of the King have brought in past, it’s only natural The Academy is sore from missing out on the viewers a Dark Knight nomination would have brought…
Ganis also implies that the bigger nomination means they will be “casting a wider net” and that comedies, documentaries, and animated films may have a better shot. Considering those genres already have their own category (aside from comedies, obviously), I’m more interested in the possibility of the Academy growing a longer memory. I think back on the woeful absence of Zodiac from 2008’s nominations, and wonder if a film like this year’s incredible The Hurt Locker, might benefit. Perhaps we can see some support this year for good movies that don’t have the advantage of a strategic fall release.
*Those worried about an even longer show can rest easy, this small change should only add an hour and a half or so to the run time.
** Hell! They could even take a stab at being relevant!