There will soon be a new Oscar statuette up for grabs -- "best popular film". (Photo: AFP)
Organizers of the Oscars -- under fire for plummeting ratings and accused of elitism -- on Wednesday announced the creation of a new category to honor top blockbusters and said they would shorten the ceremony to attract more viewers.
"Change is coming to the Oscars," tweeted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has traditionally put together the glittering awards gala each year in late February or early March.
Earlier this year, the 90th Oscars on March 4 lasted nearly four hours, and posted all-time low television ratings with 26.5 million viewers.
For 2019, organizers are hoping to produce a "more accessible" three-hour show -- by presenting some of the awards during commercial breaks, Academy president John Bailey and chief executive officer Dawn Hudson told members.
Edited excerpts of those presentations will then be shown during the broadcast.
They will also create a new award for "outstanding achievement in popular film" -- a response to accusations that for the past decade or more, the Academy has honored arthouse fare only seen by limited audiences.
The Academy did not offer specifics about how the category will be defined.
The final reform will be to hold the ceremony earlier in the calendar year -- in 2020, it will shift to February 9. In 2019, the date already set -- February 24 -- will be maintained.
Industry observers have complained that sometimes, the Oscars come nearly two months after the Golden Globes, making Tinseltown's awards season a marathon of gowns, glitz -- and stress.
"We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world," Bailey and Hudson said in a letter to members, a copy of which was sent to AFP.
"The board of governors took this charge seriously."
But the new measures were immediately met with criticism -- with some suggesting the new "popular film" would mean critical and box office hits like "Black Panther" might be snubbed in the race for the coveted best picture statuette.
"The last thing that the Academy should now be doing is creating a reactionary new category that is, in effect, the Popular Ghetto," said Owen Gleiberman, the chief film critic for Hollywood news outlet Variety.
"Instead, it should be working to take off its blinders and make more room in the big tent for every movie that comes out. That's how to win viewers back to the Oscars without trashing the essence of what movies are."