The organizers of the Oscars on Thursday said it will delay the introduction of a new category honoring “popular films” pending “further study,” a decision that comes after critics ripped into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for trying to create a new award for the purposes of appeasing studios and boosting telecast ratings.
“There has been a wide range of reactions to the introduction of a new award, and we recognize the need for further discussion with our members,” Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said in a statement. “We have made changes to the Oscars over the years—including this year — and we will continue to evolve while also respecting the incredible legacy of the last 90 years.”
The Academy announced the new category last month, along with other changes being made to the telecast, without any details on qualifying criteria for what would define a “popular film” award. It was scheduled to be introduced at the 91st Oscars, which will be held on Feb. 24, 2019. Organizers said at the time that the new category was part of an ongoing effort to keep the awards relevant as Hollywood’s biggest movies rarely earn nods in major categories at the Oscars, where voters tend to favor more prestigious and dramatic fare.
The Academy Awards on ABC averaged a mere 26.5 million viewers for this year’s Oscars, where The Shape of Water took the Best Picture accolade, down from last year’s 32 million and becoming the least-viewed telecast in the show’s history.
But the conversation has shifted around popular films — this year, Disney’s Black Panther superhero film not only crossed $700 million at the North American box office and $1.3 billion worldwide, but it was critically praised and is seen as an early Oscars contender.
The Academy also said Thursday that its plan for a shorter, three-hour Oscars telecast will mean that six to eight awards out of the overall 24 categories will be handed out during commercial breaks, to then be edited and aired later in the broadcast. That decision has also been met with some backlash for marginalizing awards that might have less celebrity nominees.
Meanwhile, the Academy’s Scientific and Technical awards ceremony, usually held two weeks before the Oscars ceremony, will move to June in 2020, “as the technologies honored do not represent achievements within a specific awards year,” organizers said.