What do we want from ITV’s Oscars coverage?

jonathon ross oscars itv
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The US Oscars broadcast might have gone down a treat, but ITV’s coverage in the UK has made the internet a bit cross. What could happen differently next year?

The 96th Academy Awards seems to have gone down rather well. Nobody hit anyone. Every envelope seemed to have the right name in it. The cameras were generally pointing in the right direction. High fives all round, I say.

Unfortunately for ITV – who nabbed the UK broadcast rights off Sky, who’ve held them since 2004 – when the actual ceremony seems to be going down well, it throws the shortfalls of UK coverage into the spotlight.

Jonathan Ross took on hosting duties alongside a panel including The Hobbit star Richard Armitage, radio and documentary presenter Yinka Bokinni, actress Fay Ripley and comedian/critic Ben Bailey Smith. It was, with the best will in the world, a bizarre mix; all four seemed as confused as anyone that they were the ones chosen to give the nation’s first thoughts on the biggest night in showbusiness.

The internet, predictably, doesn’t seem too pleased. A quick look at X (formerly the joint second-highest scoring letter in Scrabble) this morning found no shortage of film fans complaining that no one on the panel seemed to completely know what they were talking about.

Ross – surely a no-brainer for the presenter job as the noughties’ most famous cinephilic chat show host – sadly could have done with doing a bit more homework. From bizarre mispronunciations (Open-heimer? John Sen-na?) to basic factual inaccuracies (referring to best original song nominee American Symphony as a documentary short; claiming proud Irishman Cillian Murphy as a Brit), it’s hardly a good look when the panel are forced to correct the person who, really, should be the most knowledgeable of the bunch of them.

While the conversation was often lively, the ramshackle structure did lead the conversation down some strange avenues. Bailey Smith seemed to spend much of his screentime forced to defend not-loving Oppenheimer as much as some other nominees. On a night where Oppenheimer happened to be sweeping most of the major categories, it was an unfortunate cul-de-sac the panel found themselves in, and one Ross didn’t seem quite able to steer the conversation out of.

Read more: Oscars 2024 review | A slick, polished ceremony showed Hollywood can still put on a good show

With most of the industry’s biggest names on the ground across the Atlantic, finding a balance between critical expertise and presentational flair from a much-diminished pool was always going to be a tough ask. It probably didn’t help that Bailey Smith – the most qualified candidate on paper – more than any of them looked desperately in need of a nap, but the lack of sometimes pretty basic knowledge across the panel (how to pronounce Supporting Actress favourite Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s name, for example) really stood out. When the two most-famous faces of the four, Armitage and Ripley, are actors overwhelmingly best-known for TV and theatre, it was hard to escape the feeling that ITV had just picked up whoever was available.

This is hardly a problem unique to ITV, of course. Sky’s coverage for years has struggled with similarly odd guest panels and a fluffing of the basics, but with the potential viewership skyrocketing thanks to the show’s move to terrestrial telly (peaking just under one million, according to Deadline), this year’s crop seem to have been under a bit more scrutiny than usual.

It’s also a job that the producers of the US broadcast don’t really need to worry about. For American viewers, every cut back to Ross and the gang in the studio is replaced with a chunk of adverts for Oppenheimer-themed washing machines. With Ofcom (thankfully) restricting the number of ad breaks a UK channel can have during a show, that leaves a lot of dead air to fill, so the discussion panel format feels more or less essential.

What, then, is a UK Oscars broadcaster supposed to do? Sadly, the lack of film discussion shows on the telly means the number of genuine film experts who can reliably distinguish between David Lynch and David Leitch and also throw to an ad break is punishingly small. And with films still in a much less culturally dominant state than they were 20 years ago, even grabbing likeable personalities from adjacent industries – as we’ve just seen – isn’t a recipe for success either. Giving the job to a pair of news anchors or professional journalists might take some of the “entertainment” factor out of the ceremony, but it would at least keep the broadcast’s downtime uneventful.

The fact Sky have laboured for the last few years with near-identical shortcomings suggests these panel problems don’t have an easy fix in the current format. Caught between desperately trying to appeal to the mainstream while getting shouted at by the film geeks that actually stayed up past their bedtime to watch the ceremony, the current model for a UK awards broadcast doesn’t seem to be pleasing anyone. There’ll be few high fives going around ITV today – it might be time for a rethink.

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