Back in the day, the Hollywood trades feasted during awards season on what’s known as “for your consideration” ads. It was like their Christmas.
The ads generated the lion’s share of revenue just like the annual Christmas holidays do for retailers. Studios and other vested interests spent millions of dollars to attract the attention of Oscar voters, who are members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The situation got so out of hand, smaller indie filmmakers complained that they were being aced out of consideration by big-spending studios.
To cut back on the free-for-all and quell critics, the Academy began collapsing the time between nominations and the awards ceremony.
The process took decades to play out. The first Academy Awards in 1929 were handed out in May. The date bounced between November and April until World War II. Starting in 1942, the date was moved to March 4 and was progressively pushed out to March 24 over the next 14 years.
Starting in 1958, the awards show date was pushed back even further, into April, and remained there until 1971. The period market the trades’ Golden Era. Hollywood Reporter publisher William R. Wilkerson, was so powerful he blackmailed studios into buying ads by threatening to stop covering their pictures.
During the 1950s, the archly conservative mogul almost single-handedly launched Hollywood’s Red Scare through his feared column “Trade Views.” Hundreds of actors, directors and film workers were blacklisted for alleged ties to the Communist Party.
Starting in 1980s, however, the Academy began to slowly march forward the show date. The ceremony was last held in April in 1983. For the next 20 years, it remained in late March. Starting in 2003, however the show was held in February for the first time in 62 years.
The big losers, of course, were the trade papers and other publications that relied on “for your consideration” advertising. The move spelled the beginning of the end to their power and influence. Cutbacks followed as the publications sliced expenses to make up for lost revenue.
The Internet and the rise of influential blogs hurt even more. The papers have collectively changed hands a half dozen times since their heyday.
Penske Media Corp. bought Variety last year at a fire sale price, financed by a hedge fund. The Hollywood Reporter has been in the hands of private equity firms Guggenheim Partners and Pluribus Capital Management since 2009.
In the latest blow, Variety announced that it was ending its daily print edition after 80 years of continuous publication. The paper was once so important, President Franklin Roosevelt had a copy delivered to his desk every morning by private courier.
The academy’s move may grant the papers some temporary breathing space. But unless it’s willing to go back to a late March or early April show date, Hollywood can kiss the once-powerful trades goodbye.
Footnote: At the moment, the 87th Academy Awards are set for Feb. 22, 2015.