Despite Spielberg's 'Get Off My Lawn' Moment, The Oscars Won't Ban Netflix
from the protectionism-by-any-other-name dept
A few months back Steven Spielberg had a “get off my lawn” moment in demanding that films from Netflix and other streaming services be excluded from Oscar contention. The sentiment isn’t uncommon among old-school Hollywood types who see traditional film as somehow so sacred that it shouldn’t have to change or adapt in the face of technological evolution. It was the same sentiment recently exhibited by the Cannes film festival when they banned Netflix films because Netflix pushed back against absurd French film laws (which demand a 36-month delay between theatrical release and streaming availability).
We’ll note that shortly after Spielberg’s rant, he could be found pushing streaming services at Apple, which suggests a dash of…inconsistency in his arguments. Regardless, Academy members don’t appear swayed by Spielberg’s request, and have announced that current rules for Oscar contention will remain unchanged. More specifically the Academy will retain “rule two,” which says a film is eligible to be considered for an Oscar so long as it has a seven-day run in an Los Angeles area theater. So sayeth the Academy:
“The Academy’s Board of Governors voted to maintain Rule Two, Eligibility for the 92nd Oscars. The rule states that to be eligible for awards consideration, a film must have a minimum seven-day theatrical run in a Los Angeles County commercial theater, with at least three screenings per day for paid admission. Motion pictures released in nontheatrical media on or after the first day of their Los Angeles County theatrical qualifying run remain eligible.
“We support the theatrical experience as integral to the art of motion pictures, and this weighed heavily in our discussions,” said Academy President John Bailey. “Our rules currently require theatrical exhibition, and also allow for a broad selection of films to be submitted for Oscars consideration. We plan to further study the profound changes occurring in our industry and continue discussions with our members about these issues.”
Some of that was likely impacted by the DOJ’s odd (given its apathy on countless antitrust issues across a universe of sectors) letter warning the Academy that such a ban might run afoul of antitrust enforcers.
Amusingly, the New York Times has subsequently published a piece largely fueled by anonymous friends of the director, attempting to strongly walk back Spielberg’s original efforts to have streaming services banned from contention. The piece tries to suggest that Spielberg’s opposition to streaming has been largely overhyped and misreported, despite his clear, documented preference for a rule change that would have kept services like Netflix from winning awards. In talking to the Times, Spielberg’s anti-streaming positioning has softened dramatically:
“I want people to find their entertainment in any form or fashion that suits them,” Mr. Spielberg said in an email in response to queries from The New York Times. “Big screen, small screen — what really matters to me is a great story and everyone should have access to great stories.
“However, I feel people need to have the opportunity to leave the safe and familiar of their lives and go to a place where they can sit in the company of others and have a shared experience — cry together, laugh together, be afraid together — so that when it’s over they might feel a little less like strangers. I want to see the survival of movie theaters. I want the theatrical experience to remain relevant in our culture.”
Sure, ok. The problem is that simply wanting to preserve the traditional brick and mortar film experience is one thing. Taking active, protectionist steps to prevent streaming competitors from winning awards or fairly competing with them is something else entirely. The consumer is driving this particular train, and if consumers ultimately decide they no longer want to go to a physical location and overpay for popcorn and sticky floors that’s their prerogative. It’s how competition, and evolution, works.