How the Grammys early cutoff hurt Drake & Adele and comparing it to other award show timelines

The Grammy Awards nominees were announced recently. And, like every year, there was something that bugged me: the award show isn’t until mid-February, but a lot of recent songs aren’t nominated.

The Grammy Awards, more than the other major award shows, seems to have a way-too-early cutoff for submissions. Why? I started looking at the full submission timeline, but quickly found myself knee-deep in the arcane rules and procedures of the Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, and Tonys (EGOT!).

Into the rabbit hole we go!

Grammys

  • Timeline
    • Grammy written entry deadline: Aug 26 (but July 1 for releases through July 30)
    • Grammy album release cutoff: Sept 30, 2015
    • Grammy nomination voting: Oct 14-Nov 4
    • Grammy nominations announced: Dec 7, 2015
    • Grammy award voting: Dec 16-Jan 15
    • Grammy award show: Feb 15, 2016
    • Total time from cutoff to award show: 4.5 months
    • Sources: timeline, rules

My first thought when reading this: what’s the difference between the entry deadline and the album release deadline? Good question! The album release deadline is simple: it’s the last date the album can officially be released for sale. But the entry deadline is when you have to submit your album for consideration to be nominated.

But wait, isn’t the entry deadline BEFORE the album release deadline? Yep! And turns out, it’s like that for all the award shows. Basically, if your album comes out at the end of the eligibility period, you have to submit it for Grammy consideration before its official release date. Weird, but whatever. What’s even more unusual is if your album comes out before July 30th, you had to submit it by July 1st for consideration.

If the Grammy committee gets submissions so early, why does it take so long to actually give out the awards?!

Let’s look at just how long it takes. The album release deadline is Sept 30th and the award show is on February 15th. That’s FOUR AND A HALF months in between. What takes so long? Well, they allocate about a month for nomination voting, another month until actually announcing the nominees, a month for the final round of voting, and then wait another month until the awards show. That’s SO LONG (especially compared to the other awards shows, as you’ll see below).

Now, you might be thinking, what’s the big deal? Well, let’s look at how it affects two of the biggest artists in the world:

  1. Drake: There wasn’t a consensus song of the summer this year, but there sure was an omnipresent fall song: Hotline Bling. It’s Drake’s biggest hit and would probably be the favorite for Best Rap Song this year. But it wasn’t nominated. Even worse, it wasn’t even submitted for consideration!

    How is that possible? Because, of course, the Grammys timeline is awful. It’s explained here, but basically remember the deadline for submitting the song: August 26th, 2015. At that time, Hotline Bling was just recently released and was only #57 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. No one knew what a huge smash it would quickly become.

    And so Drake’s team submitted other songs, like “Energy”, which was nominated instead. It might win, it might not. But it’s nowhere near the lock that “Hotline Bling” would’ve been.

  2. Adele: She just destroyed the all-time record for first-week album sales with 3.4 million sold. Her lead single entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #1 and has stayed there for at least 7 weeks running. But she won’t be on the Grammy stage. Not as a nominee, at least. Why? Again, a victim of the Grammys timeline.

    Her song, “Hello”, came out on October 22nd, 2015. Her album, ‘25’, came out on November 20th, 2015. But remember, the deadline was September 30th. So even though we are firmly living in the Age of Adele these next few months, she won’t be up for any Grammys this year.

    Of course, she’ll be eligible at next year’s awards. But it will have been nearly 16 months by then. Will she be able to repeat her sweep from last time, or will her moment have passed because of the long hiatus?

So, not only is the Grammy process unusually long, it actually does a disservice to the songs and artists that should be nominated. But is it unusual or do other award shows do better? Let’s take a look!

(PS. The Grammys need to fix other things too: most notably, a recent rule change that allows the entire voting body to vote on individual genres, which they may not know about. This came up when Macklemore won Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar a few years ago and actually apologized for it. If you’re curious about other ways the Grammys need fixing, definitely read this article too.)

Emmys

  • Timeline
    • Emmy written entry deadline: May 4
    • Emmy show airdate cutoff: May 31, 2015 (but…hanging episode rule!)
    • Emmy nomination voting: June 15–26
    • Emmy nominations announced: July 16, 2015
    • Emmy award voting: August 17–28
    • Emmy award show: Sept 20, 2015 (Creative Arts ceremony on Sept 12)
    • Total time from cutoff to award show: 3.66 months
    • Sources: timeline, rules (hanging episode rule on page 4)

So the Grammys have a 4.5 month delay between the deadline and the award show. Are the Emmys any better? At first glance, not especially: it’s more than 3.5 months from the airdate deadline to the award show this year.

But wait, it’s actually a lot better than it looks! A few things come into play:

  1. The awards are intentionally timed to the beginning and end of the TV season. The Emmy awards started as a way to honor broadcast TV (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, etc), whose season runs from September through May. That’s why the cutoff is the end of May. And the award show itself is usually held on the first day of the new TV season in mid-September, providing a great promotional opportunity for all the new fall TV shows. So the lengthy Emmys timeline is actually intentional, unlike the Grammys. (And the 2014 Emmy awards were held in August because of a scheduling conflict, demonstrating they could shorten the timeline if they really wanted.)

  2. The hanging episode rule. What happens when the Emmys airdate deadline arrives in the middle of a TV show’s current season? Not to worry! As long as a show airs more than half of its episodes before the cutoff, any episodes that air after that (but before the end of voting) are still eligible. They do have to air on the same platform (so a network can’t just put unaired episodes online) and the complete season must be 6 episodes minimum, but they are indeed eligible.

So TV is a fundamentally different medium than music and the Emmys process reflects that. Of course, the awards are no longer for just broadcast shows—in fact, broadcast shows are increasingly shut out of the major categories in favor of cable and streaming shows. And perhaps the Emmys should push back the May cutoff as a result.

For example, Netflix releases Orange is the New Black in early June every year, which is just after the cutoff. So at the September 2015 Emmy awards, everyone was talking about Season 3 of the show, but Season 2 was the one in consideration for awards.

It’s not just streaming shows that are affected by the May deadline though. FX’s Louie gets awful ratings, but the network keeps it around because it’s a perennial Emmy favorite. In 2014, Louis CK finished up Season 4 a little late, so FX actually aired 2 episodes back-to-back every week just to make sure it hit the Emmy cutoff. When networks start scheduling shows to accommodate award shows and not viewers, you know it’s time to update the rules.

Overall though, the Emmys timeline is still better than the Grammys. What about the Oscars?

Oscars

  • Timeline
    • Oscar written entry deadline: Dec 2
    • Oscar movie screening cutoff: Dec 31, 2015 (start of one-week qualifying LA run)
    • Oscar nomination voting: Dec 30-Jan 8
    • Oscar nominations announced: Jan 14, 2016
    • Oscar award voting: Feb 12-Feb 23
    • Oscar awards: Feb 28, 2016
    • Total time from cutoff to award show: 2 months
    • Sources: timeline, rules

Compared to the Grammys, the Oscar timeline is downright expeditious. It’s pretty simple: if your movie came out in calendar year 2015, it’s eligible at the February 2016 Oscars. That’s great!

A couple of notes:

  1. The above timeline is for “General Entry” films. Animated films, foreign films, short films, and documentaries have significantly earlier cutoffs.

  2. If a music album comes out on a certain date, that’s when everyone generally gets to hear it for the first time (critics used to get them earlier, but the fear of leaks has mostly ended that). On the other hand, movies are rolled out gradually. Especially awards-bait movies – they’re generally shown off at Cannes, Telluride, TIFF, and other film festivals before their official release in, say, late December. So keep that in mind when comparing the Grammys and Oscars timelines.

  3. The cutoff for movies is December 31, but that’s only for a “one-week qualifying Los Angeles run.” Basically, as long as a studio releases their movie in one theater in LA, it qualifies for that year’s Oscar awards. So if a studio knows they have a solid Oscar contender, they could delay the movie’s wide release until closer to the actual award show, presumably hoping the extra press translates to more tickets sold.

The Oscars do a pretty great job of not stretching out their timeline too much. Where the Grammy awards give voters a MONTH to turn in their ballots for each round of voting, the Oscars give little over a week. And the award show itself is only 5 days after the voting deadline (the Grammys and Emmys, inexplicably, wait about a month!).

However, that doesn’t mean the Oscars process isn’t without its peculiarities either. Leading up to this past year’s Oscars, Julianne Moore was a huge favorite to win Best Actress for her role in Still Alice. I was excited and wanted to see the movie, but it wasn’t out in theaters yet. When she won the Oscar, I checked again for showtimes…but the movie STILL wasn’t out! That’s right, Julianne Moore won the Oscar for a movie that still hadn’t been released nationwide. I know Oscar voters usually get DVD screeners of nominated films, but it makes you wonder…did they all actually watch Julianne Moore’s performance or did they just vote for her because experts said she was the favorite?

All in all though, the Oscars have a pretty solid timeline. The eligibility period is timed to the calendar year (so it’s easy to tell which year of movies they’re honoring) and they don’t waste much time leading up to the award show.

Tonys

  • Timeline
    • Tony written entry deadline: not found
    • Tony play debut cutoff: Apr 28, 2016 (must open on Broadway)
    • Tony nomination voting: not found
    • Tony nominations announced: May 3, 2016
    • Tony award voting: not found
    • Tony award show: June 12, 2016
    • Total time from cutoff to award show: 1.5 months
    • Sources: timeline 1, timeline 2, rules

I spent a LONG time, looking very hard & trying every search term I could think of, to find details on the written entry deadline and voting periods for the Tonys. Alas, to no avail. If anyone has more details, please let me know so I can update this!

As far as I can see, however, the Tonys are the fastest of them all. From the time a play has to debut on Broadway to the actual award show itself, there’s only a 6-week turnaround. That’s great! I don’t know how the Tony Awards do it so quickly, but the other award shows could definitely learn from them.

BONUS: Golden Globes

  • Timeline
    • Golden Globes written entry deadline: Oct 30, 2015
    • Golden Globes movie screening cutoff: Dec 2, 2015
    • Golden Globes TV airdate cutoff: Dec 31, 2015??
    • Golden Globes nomination voting: Nov 25-Dec 7
    • Golden Globes nominations announced: Dec 10, 2015
    • Golden Globes award voting: Dec 21-Jan 6
    • Golden Globes award show: Jan 10, 2016
    • Total time from cutoff to award show: 1.25 months
    • Sources: timeline, rules

Just for good measure, I decided to take a look at the Golden Globes timeline too. The Globes are actually a very interesting case study for a few reasons. First of all, they honor both TV shows and movies. Moreover, their award timeline turnaround time is little more than a month. In fact, their TV cutoff is apparently only 10 days before the award show! (I couldn’t find a definitive deadline for TV shows, so I’m going by their rules PDF which says all TV shows in a calendar year are eligible.)

How can this be? For one very simple reason: the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which votes on the Golden Globes, has only 90 members. For comparison, the Oscars have more than 6,500 eligible voters. The Emmys have more than 15,000 eligible voters. The SAG Awards have 165,000 eligible voters. Compare that to NINETY.

So, basically, view any actual Golden Globes winners with a very heavy dose of skepticism. Heck, Globes voters have repeatedly rewarded studios who bribe them with fancy dinners & private concerts, free DVD players & watches, or even all-expenses-paid trips to Las Vegas. And that’s just the stuff we know about!

The worst part is that the general public views the Golden Globes as a worthy predecessor to the Oscars. In fact, winning a Golden Globe is better than winning an Oscar for a movie’s bottom line—around $14 million vs $3 million!

Long story short, the Golden Globes indeed have the shortest timeline, but that’s because you can’t take them seriously.

Conclusion

  • Summary:
    • Time from Grammys cutoff to award show: 4.5 months
    • Time from Emmys cutoff to award show: 3.66 months
    • Time from Oscars cutoff to award show: 2 months
    • Time from Tonys cutoff to award show: 1.5 months
    • Time from Golden Globes cutoff to award show: 1.25 months

I’m glad to see I wasn’t crazy when I thought the Grammys took unusually long to decide awards. They’re the only award show not timed to the calendar year (or TV season), even though the date of the actual awards show would suggest otherwise. In fact, they air around the same time as the Oscars, but the Grammys cutoff is 3 months earlier than the Oscar cutoff!

Grammys, step your game up.

UPDATE: After all this, turns out not all award show deadlines are actually final! A week after originally announcing their 10 nominees for Best Picture, the Critics Choice Awards just added the new Star Wars movie as an 11th option after an internal vote. More details in this Deadline story.


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