Scott Hardie | March 3, 2019
Among AMPAS's rules for a movie to be eligible for an Oscar, it must have played in at least one theater in Los Angeles for at least one week during the calendar year before the Oscar ceremony, and it must have done so before it is released in any other format (television, streaming, DVD, etc).

Netflix and Amazon have taken to playing their films in theaters in qualifying runs before streaming them online. And some members of the Academy object to this, because it changes the industry's entire business model, although plenty of people have said the model is changing anyway.

In particular, Steven Spielberg has objected to Netflix doing this and wants to change the eligibility rules. "Once you commit to a television format, you're a TV movie. You certainly—if it's a good show—deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar."

That raises some questions that I find interesting:

1) Is Netflix television? It plays many TV shows and it's watched on many TV screens, but it's also watched on other devices like phones and also contains movies. (This is about all streaming services, really; I'm just using Netflix as an example.)

2) Why don't Netflix movies compete in the Emmys, like Netflix's TV shows do? Few people seem to mind Netflix winning Emmys.

3) What is the difference between a movie and a TV movie? Like Netflix does, NBC or HBO could release a film in one theater in L.A. before airing it on TV, and nothing would stop that movie from qualifying for an Oscar. It sounds like the fact that TV companies don't do this is the only thing that kept us from having this debate before.

4) Is this fight really about the power to define the order of the industry? What prevented TV companies like NBC from releasing their movies in theaters was the old order of the industry: Every company and person working in it knew where the boundaries were and when to cross them (like an actor moving from one medium to the other) and what kinds of relationships everyone had with each other. For a TV company to compete with movie companies would have damaged a lot of relationships and led to business difficulties and loss of income. Netflix's entire business model works differently and they don't depend on the same relationships, so they want to establish a new order in which they can earn more profit. The old order is rightfully threatened by this, in terms of both money and power. Enter AMPAS as gatekeeper, one of the few parties who can draw boundaries that everyone recognizes.

5) How much is the industry's business model changing naturally/inevitably, and how much is Netflix forcing it to change? Some people who embrace/defend Netflix's eligibility for Oscars say that streaming is the future and movie theaters are going to die off and dinosaurs like Spielberg should stop obstructing progress. But Netflix is making conscious choices to compete for prestigious talent. Awards eligibility is a major factor in attracting that level of talent, so it must push for films like Roma to be positioned for Best Picture in order to pursue its strategy. Maybe the better question is: How much is Netflix choosing to disrupt, and how much does the economy of the entertainment industry force it to disrupt?

6) If Netflix TV shows are eligible for Emmys, are YouTube shows like PewDiePie and Jake Paul? (Those almost certainly won't win because it requires industry relationships to be nominated and to win, but theoretically, what's the difference?) If Netflix's movies don't belong at the Oscars or at the Emmys, is it time for a third major award recognizing Internet productions? The Webby Awards are the closest thing I can think of that exists already, but their entire model is wrong for this. (They're focused on technology; they have a narrow scope of awards honoring film/media; their voting membership is mostly Silicon Valley not Hollywood; they're for-profit. I could go on.)

What do you think about any of this?

Samir Mehta | March 3, 2019
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Samir Mehta | April 3, 2019
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