If the Oscars move into January in 2013, the Academy will set in motion a sea change in the production cycle and distribution of prestige titles.

The rumours continue to persist that the Academy Awards will move their date into January as early as 2013, so let’s imagine the wider implications of that scenario.

At present, there are two and a half weeks between the nomination ballot mailing and the announcement of the nominations and three weeks between final ballot mailing and final polls closure. Assuming that the ceremony will take place at the end of January and these periods are curtailed by a week each, nomination ballots could be mailed out in mid-Dec at the earliest and the nominations announced in late Dec or early Jan.
That shift implies that films will need to be available for screenings and on screeners by late November at the latest. And assuming that other awards shows will move into Jan or Dec in order to take place before the Oscars, films will realistically need to be locked by late Oct.
The production cycle will change to accommodate these calendar moves so that a so-called prestige film will henceforth target completion for Oct and many more will be available for screening and awards launches at the Venice, Toronto, Telluride and New York film festivals and even earlier at Cannes in May.
This new calendar presents certain dilemmas for distributors. Key holiday box office titles like this year’s War Horse or Girl With The Dragon Tattoo will be getting premature exposure and running the risk of digital piracy six weeks before they open at Christmas time; distributors will find it harder to persuade Oscar voters to watch their films if they don’t have the Christmas break to view them; they will also struggle to maximize box office grosses if they have a month less in which to capitalize on the awards heat.

Titles this year like The Artist and Shame which could find audiences as a result of awards attention would be less likely to break out.
But should the change come, the industry will move to accommodate it and the season will start earlier. Although the grind of awards shows through Jan and Feb is gruelling to those at its epicentre, it is also a prolonged celebration of film in which the winner is the industry at large.