New movie trailers could boost Oscar ratings

Commentary: Previews of hot films might lure eyeballs

If there's one thing Academy Awards producers Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman should have learned from the 2009 telecast, it's that Hollywood loves a hit.

Initial reviews of the Hugh Jackman-hosted extravaganza were mixed. And the feeling inside the Governors Ball that night was that the show's new pieces of flair -- "innovations" such as carting out former acting winners to awkwardly praise nominees they likely didn't care much about -- merely added a lighter shade of rouge to the aging starlet.

But ratings went up. About 10% more people watched, reversing the downward spiral of the past few years. And voila! -- the show has been deemed a success almost universally ever since.

As Mechanic and Shankman put together their plan for the 82nd annual ceremony March 7, they should be mindful that their efforts will be criticized unless they lure more eyeballs while still maintaining the aura of the Oscars as Hollywood's most esteemed evening of pomp and self-celebration.

Here's how: Introduce movie trailers to the show.

Think about it. At five strategically timed slow points in the ceremony, a major star could appear to introduce a two-minute clip of never-before-seen footage from an upcoming film. Every major studio, mini-major and specialty division would be invited to enter a lottery for the five slots, the only rule being that the winning studios' clips -- any clip; it can be something from a prestige project or from "Iron Man 2" -- has never been seen before.

Can you imagine what kind of interest there would be if Summit revealed the first glimpse of June's "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" during the telecast? Actually, we don't have to speculate. Exclusive footage of "New Moon" -- including the first shots of the film's shirtless werewolves -- aired during the MTV Movie Awards in June, and the show's ratings shot up 92% in the target demo, its best performance in five years.

Studios probably would jump at the chance to showcase their shiniest wares in front of the billion-or-so moviegoers who tune in around the world. If Warner Bros. were given the opportunity to debut three minutes of Christopher Nolan's "Inception," millions likely would tune in just to check out what "The Dark Knight" director has up his sleeve. When these lookie-loos also are exposed to the smaller films being honored, such as likely multiple-nominees "The Hurt Locker" or "Precious," all the better for the film industry.

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Mechanic and Shankman could all but guarantee an uptick in Oscar ratings without agonizing over whether such populist pics as "Avatar" or "The Hangover" make the cut with voters. Plus, if the strategy works, the Academy can return to five best picture noms next year rather than continue to chase more viewers by altering the Oscar rules that people actually care about.

Including trailers probably would force producers to cut musical numbers or shorten presentations of some awards. There also might be some drawbacks. (Rimshot.) I've mentioned this idea to several awards insiders, all of whom liked the concept but instantly said the Academy would never go for it. Studios that don't win the lottery might grumble, and there is an ardent faction of traditionalists who believe the Oscars are the one night Hollywood should care about art, not commerce (as if that ship hadn't sailed long before "Titanic" won best picture in 1998).

Introducing a little popcorn to the festivities does nothing to diminish the Oscars themselves. Plus, the Academy already has shifted in that direction, last year dropping the 50-year ban on film advertising during the show. Now studios that don't win the lottery would be free to buy their way in via an ad (subject to the Academy's same restrictions on spots touting movies up for awards or in current release). Why should the Super Bowl be the premiere outlet for early trailers of potential summer blockbusters when the Oscars delivers a massive audience that, you know, actually cares about movies?

The Academy Awards should be a celebration of film, the one night of the year when movie fans around the world gather to watch the best the industry has to offer. The awards honor the achievements of the past year, and adding A-list trailers to the telecast would give that moviegoing audience a taste of the great stuff to come.

And more people would watch. In a business that depends on putting butts in the seats, who could argue with that?
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