Steven Spielberg Demands Netflix Get Off His Damn Lawn

from the swimming-upstream dept

We've noted for years that there's a certain segment of the media and entertainment industry that despises Netflix. Some of this is based on a disdain for Netflix coming to town and throwing oodles of cash around, but a larger chunk is driven by those who simply don't like change but can't admit as much. A good example of that later motivator has been the Cannes film festival, which recently banned Netflix from participating in the awards.

When asked to explain why, festival head Thierry Fremaux couldn't really provide a solid answer, but did infer that what Netflix does can't be considered good because it doesn't adhere to traditional and often counterproductive business tactics (like antiquated release windows):

"The Netflix people loved the red carpet and would like to be present with other films. But they understand that the intransigence of their own model is now the opposite of ours,” Thierry Fremaux said."

This idea that Netflix is "demolishing tradition" runs deep in many entertainment industry circles. There's this pervasive belief that if you (gasp) allow longstanding entertainment and film industry models to change, you'll kill tradition and the inherent nobility of traditional film. Again, you usually won't see a whole lot in terms of hard data in these arguments; just these vague, nebulous charges that Netflix and other streaming services -- despite increasingly winning their own awards for programming -- are somehow disrupting the sanctity of traditional business models.

This disorder flared up again last week when reports emerged that Steven Spielberg planned to pressure the Academy to ban streaming services like Netflix from receiving any future awards:

"Spielberg, a current governor of the Academy’s directors branch, plans to propose changes to Oscars eligibility rules, arguing films that debut on streaming services or get a short theatrical run should qualify for the Emmys instead of the Oscars, according to IndieWire.

“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation,” an Amblin spokesperson told IndieWire. “He’ll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the Academy Board of Governors meeting]. He will see what happens."

Again, you'll notice in the stories covering this subject that little to no actual effort is made to explain why this should happen, just a vague, meandering argument that these services somehow upset the sanctity of the traditional film industry and the brick and mortar "theater experience." Often you'll see claims that streaming services are killing traditional theaters, but data usually doesn't support that claim. A recent study found that young viewers who stream a lot of content at home are more likely to go see films at the traditional, brick and mortar theaters Spielberg claims Netflix is somehow destroying.

Meanwhile, many of the things Netflix has disrupted needed disrupting, like dated release windows that no longer serve a functional purpose, and the elimination of geographical viewing restrictions that wind up annoying paying customers. Among Spielberg's concerns is, apparently, the idea that Netflix just produces "TV movies" that shouldn't be considered high-brow enough to win an Oscar:

"Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” he continued. “The good show deserves an Emmy, but not an Oscar."

But Roma's performance at the Oscars rather quickly obliterated that argument, as have a number of high-profile Netflix successes over the last few years. What Spielberg's really engaged in is just vanilla protectionism driven by a fear of change.

Many were, understandably, quick to urge the Academy to open its mind to diverse opinions on this subject:

Netflix also offered a fairly pointed response to Spielberg's attempt to blackball the company from awards consideration:

Does Netflix produce a lot of crap? Yes. Does the company use cash to throw its weight around? Sure. So do traditional Hollywood studios (don't tell anybody). But the laundry-list of awards that Netflix has already won make it clear Netflix isn't just some parasite. It's just a disruptive presence to yet another legacy industry that's nervous about change. If Netflix is legitimately doing stupid things then focus on those. But this idea that it shouldn't qualify for awards because it doesn't adhere to dated technological norms is just more grumbly ranting from grandpa's front porch.

Filed Under: awards, hollywood, internet, oscars, steven spielberg, streaming
Companies: netflix


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  1. icon
    PNRCinema (profile), 4 Mar 2019 @ 1:13pm

    Wow...

    I can't believe there are so many people who just don't get it. And you cherry-picked your story, Karl - there was a clear reasoning behind it:

    Streaming =Television=Emmy

    Not terribly hard to understand. And I also don't get the disdain for seeing a film in a theater. It's a wonderful experience. Just think about it this way...if we had streaming in the 1940s or 1950s, all of the movies that are considered "classics" now, from "Cool Hand Luke" to "Cinderella" to "The African Queen" to "Midnight Cowboy" would have been just 'TV-movies"...and there's just something so wrong about that idea.

    Netflix has it's place in the industry. But Ted Sarandos' problem is that he refuses to try and play on the equal field already set up - he's determined to be a disruptor - he's determined to be the Mark Zuckerberg of the film industry, and apparently to be just as big as a dick to get there. So many people here on Techdirt have this incredible (and many ways deserved) disdain for the way Facebook and Google have taken over everything, pushing everyone else out of the way. What exactly do you think is the difference between those entities and Netflix?

    Answer - NOTHING.

    If Netflix was TRULY interested in film, they would play by the rules currently in place, and then use that foot in the door to move for more gradual changes. Instead, they come speeding through the door like a battering ram, demanding changes to the status quo that they haven't even EARNED the right to ask for, and when they don't get their way, they sulk.

    And those "release windows" everyone here seem to think are so antiquated are one of the driving factors keeping independent cinema alive today. Only an indie chain like Landmark can make money showing a film in the theater that is also available on OnDemand, and for small films, there are a lot of those today. But most arthouses are either mom and pop owned or community run, and for those theaters, the release window helps ensure that they can continue to operate. The Boston area has lost A LOT of smaller theaters over the past several years because they just can't compete with streaming - that's dozens of jobs lost, and a poorer theatrical experience.

    All Netflix has to do - as well as all the other streaming services like Amazon and upcoming Disney+ and Warner - to get in the awards game is agree to play by the rules already established - 90 day windows, legitimate week-long runs in NY and LA to Oscar-qualify (no "FourWalling"), and a modicum of respect that Netflix at least does not have for the way things are.

    As everyone here already knows, the legacy entertainment industries are some of the most antiquated business models on the planet, but in this case, where thousands of jobs in the theatrical exhibition industry could be at stake in the not too distant future, things need to move more slowly. Take a year, cut the window to 60 days and then 45 days. Paramount's experiment with "Scout's Guide To the Zombie Apocalypse" and several other titles a few years back proved that the window can be drastically cut down and both theater and studio CAN make money that way...but it's not going to happen overnight.

    And just for the record, I don't work for the film industry, but I'm a huge fan of the theatrical experience, and we work hard on our websites and podcasts to try and bring that love to others, to get them to the theater more often, to see more films. To me, the theatrical experience is special, and i'll always love it. YMMV, of course, because I know some places have only shit for theatres, or people who are shit running them. But when you find a gem of a theater, and you are in a theater full of like minded film fans watching something current unfold, or a newly remastered print of an old classic, or a Warner Brothers cartoon marathon, there's nothing that can compare to the experience...

    Just my two cents...have at it, everyone...:-)


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