Is the BAFTA ceremony’s near two-hour UK TV time delay out of step with a growing desire for immediacy?

There’s nothing like watching drama unfold in real-time. The Oscars, the Golden Globes, the Grammy’s are all transmitted live in the US for that reason. 

BAFTA and the BBC take a different tack, however, transmitting the UK’s flagship film event two hours after the ceremony begins. But with the UK TV audience for the awards hitting its lowest figures since 2010, and immediacy increasingly important for TV viewers and media, should BAFTA and the BBC rethink their strategy?

Guests and TV viewers alike largely enjoy the BAFTA ceremony, which is zippy in comparison with the Oscar marathon. But last night’s two-hour delay meant that as TV audiences tuned in for the edited highlights package, social media and the web at large, was already awash with chatter about the event’s big winners and losers.

The most important ingredient for an any awards ceremony is surely the element of surprise. But yesterday, media outlets were divided and confused by how to report the awards ceremony as it unfolded in real-time.

Some announced the winners as they happened in real time with spoiler alerts, others announced them without spoilers. Curiously, a number of outlets only reported winners as they were announced during the TV broadcast.

The BBC news homepage ran a prominent story soon after the main winners had been announced at the same time that it showcased a large click-through window with an option to ‘Watch the BAFTA ceremony’.

BAFTA itself tweeted links to pages revealing the winners in real-time.  

The message was muddled, the drama somewhat dissipated.

Above all BAFTA is keen to hold onto the coveted 9pm TV slot. “9pm feels like the right time,” BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry told ScreenDaily today.

“If we were to go live at 9pm we’d have to change the whole ceremony: it would impact the press for the next day, it would impact the global transmissions, and the dinner after the event”.

But would broadcasting live from 6.30 or 7pm, say, affect press or dinner requirements? The event could still build to a 9.30pm crescendo. Most people tuned in last night around 10pm, anyway.

“We discuss live vs not live every year, there are arguments for both”, continues Berry. “We feel that that 9pm slot is a really good slot for the programme and to date we have felt that two hours is a good running time.”

BAFTA likes to play it safe [see its choice of presenter], but it has also proven that it is not afraid of change, shaking up its dating, voting and format in recent years. If viewing figures suffer, a live transmission could become necessary.   

Convincing the BBC could be more difficult, however. The organisation is wary of live awards transmissions for fear of unexpected adult material. But how common is that? And couldn’t a UK evening audience handle the odd unexpected wardrobe malfunction?

There is also the inevitable issue of overrunning and the question of whether the general viewing public is interested in some of the more niche categories, which are currently rounded up at the end of the 9-11pm transmission and are also available on iPlayer.

“We have considered it (broadcasting live) in the past, but we believe the BBC One audience is happy with the ceremony broadcasting for two hours,” the BBC’s Mark Linsey, controller, entertainment commissioning, told Screen.

Could the BBC split the live transmission between digital channels to get beyond the long running time? The broadcaster wouldn’t be drawn: “The BBC is the best forum. BAFTA and the BBC have worked closely together for years.”

“I can see the pros and cons of both situations and I want to further understand the benefits of both outcomes,” concludes Berry. “I think what we’re already delivering is quite phenomenal. I need to know that going live would deliver more than what we do currently. At the moment I don’t know that it would.”

And it won’t know until it tries.