Does this mean that Oscar's only going to come once every four years?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has followed through with plans to move up the date of the Academy Awards from March to February, beginning with the 2004 Oscarcast--which is now slated for February 29, 2004, aka Leap Day.

The Academy had been contemplating the move for several weeks, believing that by pushing up the Oscar date by a month, the show would draw better ratings and the oft-contentious campaigning would be toned down.

According to Daily Variety, the Academy made the move after locking down the Kodak Theater (the ceremony's new Hollywood home) and getting approval from ABC, which broadcasts the Academy Awards and would have to juggle its schedule to accommodate the new date.

Bruce Davis, the executive director of the Motion Picture Academy, tells Variety the move is "an experiment worth trying."

The nominations, which are traditionally announced in mid-February, will likely be moved up a month.

Academy spokesman John Pavlick says an official announcement is forthcoming, but that it's just a formality. He adds that the move isn't necessarily permanent, however.

"It would be a two-year trial," says John Pavlick.

Next year's 75th edition of the Academy Awards will go on as scheduled March 23, 2003.

Murmurs of a potential Oscar move first started two weeks ago, with the Academy's board of governors citing several reasons.

First, an earlier date would get a jump on other award shows that leech off the Oscars. The Academy fears the golden guy might have lost some of his luster since upstart rivals like the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, the AFI Awards, the Broadcast Film Critics Association's Critics Choice Awards and even the British Academy of Film and Television Awards all their festivities before the Academy Awards, rendering the Oscars somewhat anticlimactic. (Although officials concede the Oscar move will likely create a domino effect, with the copycats rejiggering their calendar, too.)

The move is also seen as a way to juice ratings. This year's Whoopi Goldberg-hosted ceremonies scored the lowest audience for Oscar in more than a decade. "Moving [the show] up might help make the movies fresher...and perhaps people will be a little more excited and tune in," Pavlick explained when the news first surfaced.

Finally, the board has become increaingly concerned about the flood of studio promotional material--from trade ads to videocassette screeners--that all but overwhelms Academy voters between December, the deadline for nominations, and the actual ceremony in March.

Of particular worry is the growing number of smear campaigns (such as the one waged this year against A Beautiful Mind).

"The Academy is hoping [the shortened season] will have some positive impact in reducing the amount of campaigning that goes on," Pavlick said.

Meanwhile, ABC is equally amped about the move. "We're very enthusiastic about the move because we think it's a great thing for the Academy Awards," ABC president Alex Wallau tells Variety. "And whatever's good for the Academy Awards is good for us."

Wallau says if all goes well in 2004, ABC and the Academy could move the date up earlier in February to coincide with the sweeps period, when the networks and their local affiliates pull out all stops to pull in ratings.

Other than the rival award shows, the biggest losers in the Academy date shuffle will likely be the studios. The studios count on a huge box-office boost for nominated films, and now they will have a narrower window to reap the benefits.