The rise of video streaming platforms has changed and is continuing to change the entertainment industry in a myriad of ways. Services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu initially gained prominence thanks to their original TV series, but now they are increasingly producing and distributing feature films, with some of these films even garnering Academy Award consideration and wins. This muddies the waters, as movies meant primarily for streaming compete with those meant for the theater. For Hollywood stalwart and multiple time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg, movies intended for streaming should not be able to win film's highest honor. The legendary director recently spoke about the effect streaming services are having on independent films and why streaming movies should not qualify for Oscars, saying:
Fewer and fewer filmmakers are going to struggle to raise money, or to compete at Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically. And more of them are going to let the SVOD businesses finance their films, maybe with the promise of a slight, one-week theatrical window to qualify for awards, as a movie. But, in fact, once you commit to a television format, you're a TV movie. If it's a good show you deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.
Now it is important to note that unlike a Quentin Tarantino or a Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg does not dislike the streaming services, and he actually praised the incredible quality of today's television. His concern seems to be with how the streaming services affect the small film industry and the distinction between theatrical films and streaming films. Speaking with ITV News, Steven Spielberg brings up an interesting point about whether or not streaming movies should qualify for Oscars. While something like Amazon Studio's Manchester By The Sea got a proper theatrical release and only came to streaming after, other films like last year's Mudbound only received a one-week theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles in order to qualify for Academy Award consideration. Steven Spielberg addressed this strategy as well, saying:
I don't believe that films that are just given token qualifications, in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for the Academy Award nominations.
It does kind of seem like that strategy is almost cheating or gaming the system when a film isn't really intended to be primarily viewed in a theater. But then again, how many independent and end-of-the-year Oscar bait films employ a similar strategy? Many Oscar winners over the years have been movies that only played in a few places for a limited time, and the majority of audiences couldn't have seen them even if they wanted to. At least streaming makes these films available to more people. It is a tricky issue with no easy answers. If these types of streaming films are disqualified from Oscar contention, then the TV Movie category at the Emmys will suddenly become more competitive, interesting and prestigious. Or perhaps the Academy could update its categories to include a separate category for non-traditional releases, although I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.
Another point that Spielberg brings up here is that many studios nowadays are only focused on blockbusters and branded IPs, and are uninterested in smaller films. This means that many smaller films will just opt to go to Netflix or Amazon instead of trying to get distributed theatrically by an art-house or specialty label. These films that studios used to pickup for prestige purposes are now going to streaming services. Therefore it is something of a chicken and egg situation where studios are only interested in franchises and name brands, so these smaller films have to go to streaming, only to then be seen as not worthy of competing. Steven Spielberg notes in the interview that he released The Post theatrically and not on a streaming service, but he's Steven Spielberg; not every small film with a lesser known director will seem financially viable for a studio to release it theatrically. That's where streaming services come in if a filmmaker wants their vision to be seen.
The entertainment industry is still adjusting to the existence of streaming services like Netflix, and this is just one of the many complicated issues that will eventually need to be addressed. And if you think it's complicated now, just wait until Martin Scorsese's The Irishman is released. In the meantime, consumers have plenty of great entertainment options at home and at the theater. You can see Steven Spielberg's latest cinematic adventure, Ready Player One when it hits theaters on March 29th and for the original movies heading to Netflix this year, check out our guide.