The movie industry has traditionally had two major players – the movie studios who fund production and the cinema chains who provide access. Over the years they’ve formed a symbiotic relationship that benefits them both, such as the standard 90-day window between a movie finishing its cinematic run and it hitting the VOD and DVD market which maximises the revenue window for cinemas.
The advent of streaming services was seen as complementary to the traditional distribution system, but then Netflix went and upset the apple cart by producing their own content – in the process bypassing the studios and cinema chains much to their chagrin.
Cinema chains were the first to fight back, with most of the major chains refusing to screen Netflix Original movies due to the streaming service’s insistence on the movie being available on-demand at the same time the movie was in cinemas, which ignores the aforementioned 90-day release window they’d become accustomed to and put them in direct competition with Netflix for distribution. Understandable on their part as cinema attendance is declining in large part due to the rise of streaming services, but it also comes across as a touch petty because they’re not hurting Netflix in any way through their refusal.
Further, the screening of Netflix’s Okja and its nomination for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year caused major controversy at the festival, with many complaining that the streaming service was disrupting the cinema-going experience, and not for the better. The controversy caused a rule change for the film festival, with movies now wishing to be entered into competition at the film festival also being required to commit to being screened in French cinemas. The very cinemas who’re reluctant to screen Netflix movies.
This all segues into the issue that’s currently being debated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which hosts the most prestigious awards ceremony in the movie business – the Oscars. Should Netflix Original movies qualify for Oscar nomination?
One of the main rules in order for a movie to be eligible for nomination is that it has to be screened for at least seven continuous days within the US in the preceding calendar year. This is why you see so many movies that are touted as having “Oscar buzz” receiving limited screenings at the end of the year, so that they’re eligible for nomination the following year. Netflix has gotten around this rule, and the major cinema chains, by paying for limited screenings in smaller independent cinemas for some of its movies.
In preparation for next year’s 90th Oscars around 300 members of the Academy met in person (for only the second time in the organisation’s history) to discuss issues around the event, and one of those issues is recognition of Netflix Original movies. Predictably, and in line with what’s happened at Cannes, some members are resistant to the streaming service entering “their” domain. Some members were not impressed with Netflix’s purchasing of cinema screenings to become eligible, even though in practice it’s no different from limited screenings, with one member even going so far as to say that this could lead to “a cheapening of the Oscar”, which smacks of pretension. This is also despite both Amazon and Netflix winning Oscars this year, the difference being Amazon is happy to play the established distribution game.
And here I thought the Oscars were meant to celebrate excellence in filmmaking, not film distribution. While I couldn’t care less about the glitz and glam that surrounds the awards show, and I also think it’s becoming less and less relevant to the general public, I do appreciate the recognition that it provides film makers and actors. You can’t disagree that it’s rather nice to get recognition from your peers for a job well done, and something Netflix creators are in danger of not receiving simply because of distribution disputes.
The times are changing, and the movie landscape along with it. Streaming services are here to stay, and film festivals and award shows will need to come to terms with this. Sticking to tradition, and refusing to acknowledge the work streaming services bring to the big and small screen, will just make them increasingly irrelevant in the eyes of the very people they’re reliant on attracting to their own work.
Last Updated: October 3, 2017