Is Bafta going Strictly Come Dancing? It may not be such a far-fetched idea, as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts gears up for its annual film awards on Sunday, when a portion of the show will be shown live on BBC One for the first time in a prime time early-evening slot. The awards show will have a new set of producers, a marketable host (actor Richard E Grant), a real-time celebrity interview studio hosted by This Morning’s Alison Hammond, and performances from popular music acts Ariana DeBose and Little Simz. The ceremony will also pack in plenty of big names, including Cate Blanchett, Cynthia Erivo, Jamie Lee Curtis, Rami Malek and Colin Farrell, while the Prince and Princess of Wales are to attend, after missing the 2022 edition, with Helen Mirren due to lead a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II.
The new format for the TV broadcast of the ceremony marks a significant change for Bafta, putting it on a par with its US counterparts the Oscars and the Golden Globes, which both boast moneyspinning live TV events which have long played a key role in the months-long “awards season” that is designed to boost interest in cinema’s creative and artistic aspects.
For years the Baftas have struggled to align their glitziest night, where the biggest stars of world cinema walk the red carpet, and then wait to hear if they have got their hands on one of the golden-mask statuettes, with the demands of the TV schedule. In the past this has resulted in an awkward two-hour delay between the actual giving out of its awards – all of which are instantly communicated on social media – and the broadcast of them. But now Bafta is taking the opportunity to overhaul its awards show, which is effectively the shop window for all its other activities.
Emma Baehr, Bafta’s executive director of awards and content, says that, fundamentally, the awards show is a vehicle to aid its central purpose of promoting film culture to the general public. “As well as the glamour of the awards show, Bafta is an arts charity, we have a mission to recognise film talent and we want to bring these exceptional films to the public. So to have a prime time broadcast is of enormous value to us.”
In the US, the Oscars and Golden Globes awards shows are enormous moneymakers for their host organisations, as they sell the rights to TV networks who then sell advertising space – meaning that a fall in ratings or a scandal (which led to the 2022 Globes to be dropped from broadcast) can be a disaster. Bafta is in a different position, however: the BBC does not raise money from advertising and Bafta does not accrue large sums as a result. Neither the BBC nor Bafta will reveal figures for broadcast rights, but Bafta’s 2021 annual report says the organisation earned £3.5m from awards activity (which also includes its prestigious TV and video game awards programmes). This compares with around $75m (£62m) a year that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences receives for the Oscars telecast.
Baehr says that the new Strictly-style interview area, hosted by Hammond, will be key to developing an audience-facing show by engaging people watching at home. “Strictly is a good comparison. It’s important our guests have a good evening, but we want the same for the viewers. We can’t just film the ceremony, people watching at home just don’t feel part of it. Alison’s studio will have candid interviews and insider reaction, it’s going to be funny, unpredictable and entertaining. That is so the viewers at home will feel connected to what is happening. It comes down to thinking about the audience, all the different audiences – whether that’s on social media platforms, at home, or in the room, and that’s why we are doing it so differently.”
This also appears to be the thinking behind the appearances of DeBose and Little Simz, which are clearly aimed at keeping younger elements of the audience interested. (By comparison, last year’s headline musical guest was the formidable, but older-demographic-skewing Shirley Bassey, belting out Diamonds Are Forever as part of a celebration of the Bond films’ 60th anniversary.)
Baehr says: “We want everyone to find something they can enjoy. Little Simz is going to be really brilliant, and Ariana is going to do an amazing opening number to the show. It’s the same for the hosts: I want people to watch and feel relaxed, and in Richard and Alison I think we have the perfect pair who can do that.”
The Bafta film awards take place on 19 February and will be shown on BBC One from 7pm.