Netflix vs. Steven Spielberg is a battle over the future of the movie experience

Tuesday - 05/03/2019 07:19
CNN
CNN

New York (CNN Business) - Netflix wants to change how you watch movies. Steven Spielberg wants preserve the theatrical experience. Those two points of view are clashing, with Netflix pushing back against a plan that Spielberg reportedly has to create rules that could block the streaming giant from future Oscars contention.

"It's the old guard versus the new guard," said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. "We're at a crossroads on how people are enjoying their entertainment."

Netflix on Sunday night responded to Spielberg's reported plans by tweeting from its film unit's Twitter account, "We love cinema."
The company said in its tweet that it "also loves...Access for people who can't always afford, or live in towns without, theaters; letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time; giving filmmakers more ways to share art."
"These things are not mutually exclusive," Netflix Film tweeted.

Netflix did not mention Spielberg by name, but the tweet came after Hollywood trade publication IndieWire reported last week that the Oscar-winning director was "devoted to ensuring that the race never sees another 'Roma' — a Netflix film backed by massive sums, that didn't play by the same rules as its analog-studio competitors."

It's not clear what rule changes Spielberg might be planning to propose at the Academy's annual board of governors post-Oscar meeting. But a spokesperson for Spielberg's production company, Amblin, told IndieWire that "Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation." A spokesperson for Amblin declined CNN Business' request for comment.

Spielberg, who is a member of the Academy's board of governors and one of the most powerful people in Hollywood, has previously said he thinks that films that forgo a theater run or have a limited theatrical release shouldn't be in contention for Oscars.

"Once you commit to a television format, you're a TV movie," Spielberg told ITV News last March. "I don't believe that films that are given token qualifications, in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for the Academy Award nomination."

He took a shot at Netflix last month during an awards acceptance speech saying "I hope all of us really continue to believe that the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience. I'm a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever."

For Netflix, an Oscar can be used to court talent and help create more exclusive content for subscribers. It can also make Netflix's method of releasing films the industry norm. Netflix has been releasing its original films on its service at the same time they are in theaters, and sometimes does not release them in theaters at all.
That's a threat to the bottom line of the theater industry, which makes it money from the box office and concession sales.

Netflix released "Roma" in theaters exclusively for three weeks in November before it premiered on the service, a significant difference from the standard 90-day window that studios typically adhere to before making a movie available to rent or stream. "Roma" is currently still in theaters.

Steven Spielberg said that he's a "firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever."

Films have to be in the theaters for at least a week in order to be eligible for an Oscar nomination.

For Spielberg and other creators who want to preserve theatrical windows, it's also about sending a message to streamers that movie theaters still matter, especially if you want to win Hollywood's biggest awards.

Amazon has stuck by the 90-day theatrical window with its acclaimed hits like "Manchester by the Sea" before releasing it on its Prime video service. However, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke signaled that the studio has plans to look at a "variety of windows" to release its films going forward.

Spielberg's rule changes may curb that talk.

It also could have an impact on one of this year's most anticipated movies, "The Irishman" -- a Netflix film starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro that could be a major player at next year's Oscars race. "The Irishman" may get a wide theatrical release, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Netflix declined to comment on this story beyond the tweet.

Netflix was in the running for 15 Oscars at this year's Academy Awards, including a first-time Best Picture nomination for Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma." "Roma" ended up taking home three awards including one for Best Director.

The reports of Spielberg taking on Netflix also sparked debate online about the future of movie-making.

Director Ava DuVernay, whose film "When They See Us" premieres on Netflix later this year, posted on Twitter that she values Netflix because "it distributes black work far/wide."

"190 countries will get WHEN THEY SEE US," she tweeted. "I've had just one film distributed wide internationally. Not SELMA. Not WRINKLE. It was 13TH. By Netflix. That matters."
Spielberg is one of the most influential figures in Hollywood, but Bock believes he and much the old guard may be fighting "a losing war."
"What does the audience want?" Bock said. "Spielberg is holding the line of what cinema is, but no one person gets to decide that. The audience does."

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