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Variety is reporting that for the first time ever the motion picture academy will allow studios to run movie ads during the Oscar telecast. Why? Take a wild guess. With the economy in a shambles and everyone pulling back on advertising commitments everywhere, the Oscars can’t be so choosy anymore. It doesn’t help that the Academy Awards’ TV ratings have been in a steady downhill slide in recent years, leaving them with a loyal, but very, very old audience that delivers advertisers only a small fraction of the kind of viewership they get from a Big Event like the Super Bowl.

The academy is retaining some of its old fuddy-duddy rules, limiting ads to one per studio and prohibiting movies that are up for awards from being advertised. Still, the academy made one shrewd move, requiring studios to deliver an ad that hasn’t run anywhere else. This creates the possibility that the ads themselves could become an event. The academy is hurt by its awards show airing six or so weeks after the Super Bowl, which remains the launching pad for the big summer films and male-oriented action pictures.

But the Oscars, which will air Feb. 22, could become an advertising focal point for vaguely adult-oriented films that have some aspiration to quality. You wouldn’t bother running an ad for ‘The A-Team’ or ‘Fast & Furious,’ but you might be tempted to run ads for Nora Ephron’s ‘Julie and Julia’ or Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lovely Bones,’ just two of the films that could benefit from an Oscar ad launch. Judging from the current crop of Oscar contenders coming our way, the 2009 telecast may reach a smaller audience than ever before. But at least this increases the odds that someone might be talking about the Oscars at the water cooler the next day, even if they’re just intrigued by the cool ad they saw for the new ‘Star Trek’ movie. Hope springs eternal!