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.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: netflix

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Despite Spielberg's 'Get Off My Lawn' Moment, The Oscars Won't Ban Netflix”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
PaulT (profile) says:

“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"

Yes, we need that opportunity, Mr. Spielberg, and that’s not being taken away. As Avengers: Endgame proves, people will happily go to the cinema to watch something if they feel it improves on what they already have in the home. People having hundreds of films to choose from at home does not, and has never, taken away from the theatrical experience.

But, when your industry does not offer that opportunity – such as by refusing theatrical distribution for movies that end up on Netflix – the work of the people involved in those movies should not be dismissed just because a certain distribution model was chosen after production was complete.

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs – nominated for an Oscar this year – was not on Netflix because people wished to take away the theatrical option. It was on Netflix because the studio system refused to produce it.The Coen brothers have literally stated they went to Netflix because there’s no way your buddies would have produced the script.

Nobody wants to remove the theatrical experience, even if it is as idealised as it is in your head (and I can tell you that in many, many locations it is absolutely not). They just want access to the things your friends refuse to distribution, and that peoples efforts are not ignored because of that.

nerdrage says:

Re: Re:

You got it. Movie theaters are about sensory overload/zap pow/shared fandom, as Avengers Endgame proves. People will mob the theatrers for something like that. Just wait till Avatar 2 and all the rest launch, it will be a circus all over again.

So the question is, what are the Oscars for? Avengers and Avatar? Hey if they want to just honor the zap pow video game type of movie that keeps theaters in business, fine with me. Makes as much sense as handing out statues to whatever arty movie the big time studios throw a big promotional Oscars push behind.

I enjoyed The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs but if it hadn’t been easy to get to on Netflix, I would never have seen it. I will go to a theater to see Avengers Endgame (first movie I will have seen in 2019 in a theater) because I know damn well that watching that at home will be absurd. It’s made for a big screen in a way few movies are – it’s all about sensory overload and stuff getting blowed up real good. THAT is the theatrical experience now, whether Steven Spielberg or Hellen Mirren want to admit it. They aren’t paying customers. The paying customer has spoken.

Jason says:

I’m someone who still happens to like going to the theater to see a movie. Annoying people who talk or use their phone notwithstanding, I do think it’s an experience worth having, especially for a movie you really enjoy.

That being said, the simple fact is that the window of time for that experience is vanishingly brief in the context of any given movie. A few weeks, or maybe a couple of months at most? After that, aside from random special, limited events (that the majority of films will never have) the only time you’ll ever see that movie again will be at home, via streaming, blu-ray, or whatever. In the life of a particular film, the vast majority of people will see it that way, not in a theater.

It may not be the same experience, but a movie that is good enough to win awards should be just as worthy whether you see it in a crowded theater or streamed into your living room.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


a movie that is good enough to win awards should be just as worthy whether you see it in a crowded theater or streamed into your living room

This is true.

Also true: The Academy has not yet fully come to terms with streaming services and the changing landscape of how people experience movies.

That is why you get Old Man Spielberg yelling at Netflix.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s the impulsive "gotta have it NOW!" mentality.

Going to a movie was a rarity when I was a kid. New James Bond movie announced, we waited six months for it to be on WPIX OTA TV.

Theaters were generally reserved for dating. On the first date you watched the movie, on subsequent dates you couldn’t recall the title of the move you just "saw"…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Going to a movie was a rarity when I was a kid. New James Bond movie announced, we waited six months for it to be on WPIX OTA TV.

I wonder whether you’re optimistically misremembering. Six months seems way too low for a popular movie (which Bond films are). It might have been 6-12 months to get onto home video, maybe another year to get onto broadcast TV.

Darkness Of Course (profile) says:

Old man, old man.

Fix the price of two people going to the movies. It has skyrocketed over the last two decades.

In Portland, Or. we used to have a discount night and that meant I saw more movies at theaters. I’m retired now and, frankly, the cost of going to the movie theater is more expensive than purchasing the DVD.

The only rational decision is to skip the theater.

Bobvious says:

Re: Old man, old man.

Which is why there has been such an upsurge in home-cinema installations. One installation amortised over many movies (including repeat showings) soon becomes a small cost per-showing, often lower than the drive to the theatre/cinema. Then your movie DVD/Blu-Ray purchase undergoes the same magic.

Then you can include all your streaming options. Soon, Frank won’t be the only one with a 2000" TV.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: It's not just the cost

The last time I went to a theater, there were video screens everywhere advertising at me at the box office, and more flashing, advertising video screens at the concession booth, and video screens flashing advertisements down along the halls toward the viewing rooms.

When I sat down the screen was showing advertisements with wild motion and loud thumping music that drew my attention. It was hard to concentrate long enough to silence my phone.

When the coming attractions segment started it was preceded by non-movie-related advertisements. Between each trailer there were more advertisements. After the last movie trailer, a couple more advertisements were shown to top it off.

It was thirty minutes after the listed time before the feature film began.

It was the Lego Batman movie. It was…okay. It was something I might watch while folding laundry, but not something I’d focus on. It was not worth the cost of suffering through the previous hour’s continuous over-stimulation with advertisements. I regretted going even before I took into account the $12 I paid for my adult ticket. The kids I was with weren’t particularly impressed either.

I’m fine if that is the last time I see a movie theater in my life.

When I saw E. T. in 1982 (in Pasadena, Los Angeles County) there were no advertisements, no video screens. The screen hid behind a curtain which would part open when the trailers started, and would close and open again for the feature film. My admission was less than $3. There were no advertisements during the trailers, even for the concession booth.

Maybe Mr. Spielberg hasn’t been to a public cinemaplex since the 80s?

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's not just the cost

When my daughters were little, they HAD to have every Disney cartoon movie when it came out.

I’d fast forward the VHS tape to the movie actually starting, then pop the case and physically cut the forty-five minutes of ads for other Disney movie "coming attractions" off the tape.

When the "Horizontal Hold Stabilizers" came out, I bought one and copied JUST the movies to 8 hour VHS tapes. They watched them on eternal loops anyway. Hell, I can still sing every pre-1995 Disney song from memory…

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Yelling at clouds

This is also the same guy who decided that the Oasis (the 3D, first-person MMO internet experience in Ready Player One ) had to be turned off every Tuesday because people need to go out doors once a week and experience the pollution-saturated squalor they live in.

(In the book, the Oasis was mostly a place for education and commerce and communication and partially for games the way the internet is partially for porn and cats. In Speilberg’s interpretation it was mostly a game venue.)

Something tells me he feels left behind by the internet.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Movie theaters have to coexist with streaming as an entertainment outlet, and here’s why: DISNEY. Theatres are fully dependent on Disney blockbusters to keep them alive. And now Disney is jumping into streaming in a big way, launching Disney+ and buying Hulu 100% so that eventually it will be Disney+Hulu as the Netflix competitor. Add in Amazon, Apple and AT&T all churning out content and it’s obvious streaming will be by far the dominant form of entertainment consumption in the future. If Disney decides to crunch the theatrical window between its theatrical launches and streaming, movie theaters will have no ability to push back. The mouse rules all.

Theaters have to live with this by offering something streaming doesn’t, namely a superior theatrical experience but not the type that clueless Hollywood elitists like Helen Mirren and Steven Spielberg assume. It’s the experience that is driving monster ticket sales for Avengers Endgame: the social experience of a blockbuster launch of a movie with a huge shared fandom, and enough zap and pow that yes, in this case your little home theater setup isn’t going to deliver the goods.

The theatrical experience counts for a narrow range of movie types that are about sensation and sensory overload, not about art or thinking. So, the types of movies that theaters are for are not the same as the ones that deserve the fancy pants awards. And that is a problem for the awards people and nobody else. The paying customers will pay for what they want, and get what they want: zap pow at the movie theater, art and thinking and everything else on streaming at home (or on the go, on a mobile phone).

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...