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What the Oscars Can Learn from the Super Bowl

The problem with the Oscars is that it has two divergent goals:

1) Recognize excellence in filmmaking; and 2) Producer an award show that is viewed by as many people as possible.

Its credibility in doing the former is constantly undercut by its pursuit of the later.

But, with a little creativity, it is possible for the Academy to have its cake and eat it too.

The Oscars cannot be taken seriously if it keeps tweaking what should be straightforward voting rules on selecting the best films and artists in order to try and control which films are nominated and win to boost ratings.

The most obvious example of this is that now up to 10 films may be nominated for best picture and that instant runoff voting is used for selecting the winner. If this were the sports world, it would be akin to a league becoming upset with teams from small media markets always making it to the championship and changing playoff rules to try and help teams from larger media markets make it farther in the postseason.

I think a lot of the Oscars’ need to ramp up how much of a popularity contest the awards are stems from the fact that year after year they crap all over the technical awards.

While these awards makeup about half of the statues, they get very little attention because the public is least emotionally invested in them — who is really rooting for sound mixer? But by completely marginalizing these awards, you’re left with few categories to engage the audience with, and that’s why the stakes are so high in trying to control who wins.

The major success of the Super Bowl is that no matter who is playing in it, people always tune in.

There’s a lot more to it than just the game — most obviously the commercials and halftime show. Or to put it another way, it offers more content than just a football game. About the only similar content the Oscars offer is the opening bit. The rest is terrible banter and those stupid self-congratulatory montages. So what the Oscars needs to do is develop more content — and to do that, use the technical awards.

Here’s my big idea: everyone likes behind-the-scenes looks at movie making, and everyone likes sneak previews — let’s combine the two. The public has little concern for the technical awards because they don’t really know what a lot of the technicians do — how about educating people so maybe they will give a damn about something like sound mixing?

If I were producing the telecast, I’d reach out to the studios making the big summer action movies and ask them to put together three to four minute segment that explains what exactly someone like the sound mixer does using their upcoming movie as an example. And I’d be a stickler for quality, making sure that it isn’t superficially done. Studios will get to plug their upcoming movies, people will watch the telecast for the sneak peak, and hopefully they’ll also learn a little something about filmmaking.

If the segments are done well, they’ll become something that people look forward to seeing each year, they’ll tune in regardless of what movies are nominated, and there will be less pressure on the right movies being nominated and winning best picture.

And maybe, just maybe, people will start to care about the technical awards and have some emotional investment in them.

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