With the 2022 BAFTA film awards longlists set to be unveiled on Wednesday, the first round of voting closed at 6 p.m. U.K. time (10 a.m. PT) on Monday, Jan. 3.
Only it didn’t.
Due to “technical issues” on BAFTA’s dedicated online voting platform that saw many voters hit with error messages when trying to log in or submit their votes on a site that was operating much slower than usual, the deadline was extended by 18 hours.
According to a BAFTA representative, the fault — blamed on the influx of people wanting to vote at the last minute (and on a British bank holiday that was the final day before most people returned to work after year-end holidays) — was actually resolved in time for the deadline, but the organization decided to extend it anyway.
While the issue undoubtedly saw a few angry voices raised in front of laptop screens and perhaps the odd hand gesticulation, it’s hardly the worst problem in the world. BAFTA says all votes submitted over the period counted.
However, it’s not the only tech trouble its members have faced as the British Academy embraces a fully-digital route for both film screeners and voting.
The main target of criticism has been BAFTA View, the online platform that BAFTA launched in 2020 for the 2021 awards seasons and on which all eligible submitted films are available for streaming. Among the main reasons for the portal — three years in development — was the industry-wide move away from sending out physical DVDs, an environmentally unfriendly process that was also hugely expensive for distributors without big pockets. “Leveling the playing field,” was one of the phrases frequently used during the major overhaul of voting procedures that BAFTA unveiled in 2020 following a game-changing review process, and BAFTA View was a key part of that.
While the 2021 awards season was the first year of operation for BAFTA View, DVD screeners were still an option. For 2022, DVDs were phased out entirely. And it’s this year — BAFTA View’s first real test — that has seen a number of BAFTA members criticize the service, one that has become even more essential with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic hampering attendance at in-person screening events.
Chief among the complaints is the need for an HDMI cable connecting to a laptop to cast or mirror to a TV. Although many of the smaller distributors have uploaded their films directly onto the portal, which allows for wireless casting via Airplay to Apple TV or smart TVs, piracy concerns saw all majors use their own or third-party online platforms, which BAFTA View then links to. Given that these feature embedded anti-piracy software, such wireless casting isn’t possible.
“I refuse to attach a lengthy HDMI cable, because we have little children running around,” one BAFTA member tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And I can’t actually fit it into the TV anyway as it’s attached to the wall — I don’t know how I would do it.”
The same member — who wishes to remain anonymous — said that while he had watched a couple of films (including Licorice Pizza) on his computer, he felt forced to, and it was an approach that has meant he’s ruled certain films out. “My general rule has been that if it won’t play via Airplay, I won’t watch it.”
The member isn’t alone. On a private Facebook group for BAFTA members, several have been highly critical of the need for cables, which was the recommended solution provided by BAFTA in emails. One member posted about having to find matching carpet to lay over their “ugly long HDMI cable” so it wasn’t a trip hazard, while another said they “gave in” and had someone install a cable that now hangs from the bottom of their wall-mounted TV.
But interior design and health and safety aspects aren’t the only concerns. Among the other complaints cited on the Facebook page are films (including some of the biggest titles) on the platform that simply won’t play after repeat attempts, a site that regularly crashes and restarts playback from the beginning, wildly different encoding rates that often result in poor quality pictures, the need to enable pop-ups and ad-blockers depending on which browser is being used, and that streaming classic, the spinning wheel that comes from buffering.
Away from tech problems, several have noted the fact that some films were added to the platform extremely late in the process. In the case of Spider-Man: No Way Home, it was due to land on Dec. 30, just four days before voting closed, but never actually made it to BAFTA View due to piracy concerns at Sony. BAFTA has since revealed that, as such, the blockbuster “did not meet the eligibility criteria” for the 2022 film awards (but only did so on Jan. 10 after the voting had closed, a move that has been criticized as it meant many members who saw it in theaters may have cast votes for it). Other films — including Michael B. Jordan’s A Journal for Jordan — were for some reason available only on BAFTA View with subtitles added (something BAFTA apologized about).
The general feeling among those taking issue with BAFTA View has been one of excessive complications and frustrations (one member claimed they literally joined the Facebook group to see if they were the “only one raging in despair”), with many simply giving up and watching — and judging — some of last year’s most acclaimed films on their laptops (or even, in at least one reported case, on a phone). Some did post apparent solutions, noting particular browsers that appeared to work or a combination of apps and a Chromecast dongle. A couple even made suggestions, wondering why BAFTA hadn’t used websites that had already been tried and tested for securely streaming content, such as Screeners.com. One member, who claims to have considerable expertise with regard to streaming tech, said that BAFTA had continually rejected their offer to help.
Annoyance aside, the crux of these issues, according to many of those voicing their concerns, is that these voting members have watched fewer films than they normally would. The anonymous voter THR spoke to said that there were “at least a dozen films” they would have watched had they been able to, including several films that were in their “recommended” category, a new initiative put in place last year by BAFTA to help ensure as many titles are watched as possible.
In response, BAFTA acknowledges that problems exist and says it has provided technical support, but argues that the number of people to have been troubled by the issues is vastly outnumbered by the number who haven’t had a problem watching any of the 215 films in contention this year. Indeed, the 30 or so people who have been involved in discussions on the BAFTA Members Facebook page make up a small proportion of BAFTA’s almost 7000 film voting members. That said, THR has spoken to several members who have been highly critical of BAFTA View and say they’ve failed to watch certain titles, yet haven’t aired these frustrations online. As one simply put it: “BAFTA View has been a nightmare.”
With regard to the issue of fewer films being watched, a BAFTA representative says that their figures show that the exact opposite has actually happened. “From what we are seeing in terms of the numbers, the total views on BAFTA View is significantly up,” the rep said, noting that, unlike the 2020/2021 season, this was in a year when distributors have put on in-person screenings. “And the really important thing for us is that we’ve seen an increase in the average number of films being watched by each voter, which was the real of objective of the review.”
While there are no up-to-the-minute BAFTA View figures available, in an email sent in mid-December — before the traditional Christmas binge — it said that “over 60,000 films have already been watched,” with each member watching 11 films each on average.
While some have lamented the loss of DVDs and their ease of use, for BAFTA there’s no turning back with the all-digital approach as it tries to be “more equitable and more environmentally-sustainable,” according to the rep, while also pushing ahead with “leveling the playing field and ensure that titles are able to be viewed in the same way and watched by more people.”
BAFTA is, it should be noted, a charity, and has limited resources that it can invest in BAFTA View, a platform that is only a year old. There’s a definite sense that the portal is a work-in-progress that will be continuously developed and improved upon, something that is unlikely to appease those who have struggled with it this year, especially those who claim to have reached out with offers of help.
If and how these tech troubles impact the nomination longlists being unveiled on Wednesday remains to be seen. If it’s as negligible an issue as BAFTA suggests, then it’s unlikely. However, if it has been more prevalent, given that the streaming complications have mostly involved the third-party online platforms used by the studios that BAFTA View links to, there may be one unexpected knock-on effect. Says the BAFTA member: “So it may actually favor the small independent films, more of which I’ve been able to see.”