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Steven Spielberg wants Netflix barred from Oscars contention

Will Spielberg get Netflix ousted from the Oscars?
Will Steven Spielberg get Netflix ousted from the Oscars? 01:03
  • Steven Spielberg contends that films debuting on streaming services shouldn't be eligible for Oscars
  • That has sparked a debate pitting newcomers like Netflix against Hollywood's old guard
  • At least some observers think Spielberg's battle has already been lost as streaming becomes mainstream

Netflix has proved itself to be stiff competition for traditional Hollywood, and legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg isn't happy about it.

Spielberg, the highest-grossing director at the worldwide box office and a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has come under fire for arguing that films debuting on streaming services -- instead of jumping through the usual hoops of first appearing exclusively in theaters -- should be eligible for Emmys but not for Oscars.

A three-time Oscar winner, Spielberg is expected to propose changes to Oscars eligibility rules at the next month's Academy board of governors meeting. That comes after Netflix's "Roma" clinched three Academy Awards for Best Director, Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography. It was nominated in a slew of other categories, including Best Picture, which it lost to "Green Book," directed by Peter Farrelly.

The debate over the merits of streaming a movie versus seeing it in a theater is in full swing as players like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu increasingly win over audiences by delivering them content when and where they want it. On the other side, some in film business are trying to preserve the "windowing" model -- a mandated gap between a film's theatrical release and when it becomes available for home viewing -- that Hollywood has long embraced.

Oscars ratings up in 2019, with over 29 million tuning in 00:42

It's clear that Spielberg wants to preserve the model of cinema that he helped usher in, and not hand the movie industry's reins to the new guard. 

"He, like theater owners, justifiably fears he's losing his grip on audiences because streaming is coming so quickly and powerfully," said analyst Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations, a provider of entertainment industry research. 

"Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation," a spokesperson for Spielberg's production company, Amblin Entertainment, told IndieWire. "He'll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up. He will see what happens." Amblin did not respond to CBS MoneyWatch's request for comment.

Without naming Spielberg, Netflix addressed the issue on Twitter, saying it loves movies and delights in making top-notch films available to people who don't live near or can't afford to visit a theater. 

Spielberg's objections might not be enough to stop streaming competitors from storming Hollywood's biggest awards ceremony in the years to come.

"Right now, he's kind of like the godfather, and what Spielberg says adds weight to the conversation, and you have to listen to him because he changed filmmaking. But the way these stories play out is the old guy gets offed in the end and the new guy becomes the godfather. While his voice carries weight, it will be the new guard that wins this," Bock said.

Other Hollywood players are also weighing in. 

"One of the things I value about Netflix is that it distributes black work far/wide. 190 countries will get WHEN THEY SEE US," filmmaker Ava DuVernay wrote in part on Twitter, referring to her Netflix series on the story of the so-called Central Park Five.

Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List, an annual list of Hollywood's most popular unproduced screenplays, said "It's possible that Steven Spielberg doesn't know how difficult it is to get movies made in the legacy system as a woman or a person of color. In his extraordinary career, he hasn't exactly produced or executive produced many films directed by them."

"By my count, Spielberg does one roughly every two decades," he also tweeted.

BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield thinks Spielberg's objections to streaming -- and the evolution of the way films are made and distributed -- suggests that he is out of touch with American consumers.

"I watch ALOT of movies during the year -- but can count on one hand the number I see in a movie theater," he said over Twitter.

An unlikely alternative, should Spielberg succeed in banishing Netflix from the Oscars, would be for the streaming service to create its own awards show, which could some day even eclipse the Oscars. 

"It's probably in the Oscars' best interest to keep Netflix in the fold considering how much talent they have already accrued," Bock said. Netflix's "The Irishman," directed by Martin Scorsese, is all but guaranteed to be an Oscar contender next year. 

"My impression is he has a lot of sway and he may win first round but he won't win the war," Bock said. "The old guard will be pushed out. The best and brightest talent is working in streaming content right now."

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