Instead, Spielberg is “frustrated that exhibitors have been unwilling to compromise,” the Times reported. “I want people to find their entertainment in any form or fashion that suits them … I want to see the survival of movie theaters. I want the theatrical experience to remain relevant in our culture,” the director said in an email to the Times. When I wrote about the concept of a 28-day theatrical window in March, I noted that it seemed like a last-ditch effort at negotiation between the streaming site (which prefers to release films in theaters and online simultaneously) and major theater chains (which still insist on a 90-day window of exclusivity).
Netflix clearly cares about the Oscars—it spent tens of millions on its campaign for Roma, which this year netted a Best Director trophy, among others. An AMPAS rule change demanding proper theatrical runs for eligible movies might have been enough to force Netflix to the bargaining table, though theater chains would also have to make concessions. But the reality is that the movie business has already transformed too much for the Oscars to singlehandedly make Netflix change its entire strategy. The mere suggestion of this kind of rule change prompted the Department of Justice to send a very odd letter to AMPAS warning of potential antitrust violations. No matter what major exhibitors might think, Netflix is a prominent studio that works with well-liked artists, churns out a lot of well-reviewed films, and is a new member of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Essentially, Netflix is part of the Hollywood firmament. AMPAS President John Bailey still stressed in a statement on the Academy’s meeting that the theatrical experience matters to the Board of Governors, though he didn’t mention the streaming service by name. “We support the theatrical experience as integral to the art of motion pictures, and this weighed heavily in our discussions,” he said. “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.”
Current Oscar rules require only a one-week theatrical run in a commercial Los Angeles theater, with three screenings a day, for a movie to qualify for awards. That’s no issue for Netflix, which simply pays theaters to exhibit its releases, renting the room and paying up front for the screenings, a practice known as “four-walling.” For now, the Academy appears happy to keep things the way they are, though Bailey’s statement did have enough caveats about “further study” to keep the streaming company on its toes. Spielberg, meanwhile, will get to work on his latest film, a remake of West Side Story; according to the Times, he’s an avid Netflix user who binge-watches just like everyone else.