Chalk one up for Netflix. At least for now. Kind of.
The mega-streamer has long been frustrated by one of the Academy’s requirements for Oscar eligibility. To compete for Oscar gold, a film must debut in theaters and play exclusively on that platform (in New York or LA) for at least one week.
In other words, films that play exclusively on streamers like Netflix or go straight to VOD are not Oscar eligible. Netflix has lobbied for years to change or eliminate that rule, but to no success.
Now, Netflix is getting a (small) boost from the Coronavirus pandemic.
With movie theaters closed indefinitely due the national shutdown, the release plans for many films has been adversely affected. Some movies will now have to bypass a theatrical release completely and instead debut digitally on VOD or streamer platforms.
As a result, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) has changed their key “one week minimum” theatrical-exclusive rule…but with a few caveats:
- The rule change is not permanent; it’s a pause. It will only apply for 2020.
- To be eligible, a film will need to have had an actual theatrical release plan that was canceled. However, any film that had always planned to debut straight to VOD or on a streamer, and had always planned to bypass theatrical completely, will remain ineligible.
- This rule will only apply for as long as theaters remain closed. Once theaters re-open nationally, that clause ends. Any film that had plans to release during that window but had to cancel instead will be deemed Oscar eligible. However, films that had release plans for a date after theaters re-open but decide to cancel them anyway will not be Oscar eligible.
In a change completely unrelated to COVID-19, the Academy also voted to combine the two Sound categories into one. Now, instead of having separate Sound Mixing and Sound Effects Editing categories, there will only be one category for Best Sound. This change has been considered for a few years; it was finally agreed upon by the members of the Academy’s Sound branch.
In a procedural change, the Academy has officially voted to eliminate DVD screeners. Now, studios must send screeners to the Oscar membership exclusively through digital means.
What will that distribution look like? Studios will likely package their slate of Oscar contenders into a private Netflix-like streaming app; voting members of the Academy will be given closed access to each studios app. Not only will this eliminate the waste of seasonal DVD screeners, it should also help further curb illegal piracy.
As of now, the 93rd Academy Awards are still scheduled to be held on Sunday, February 28, 2021 on ABC.