DOJ warns Academy about blocking streaming movies from Oscar noms

Federal antitrust cops are weighing in on a struggle for Oscar supremacy that vies Netflix boss Reed Hastings against Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg

Federal antitrust cops are weighing in on a struggle for Oscar supremacy that vies Netflix boss Reed Hastings against Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg

Netflix Inc.'s pursuit of Academy Awards could become an antitrust issue.

The US Department of Justice took note of the movement and warned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that such a ban might violate anti-trust laws by suppressing competition. In 2017, Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Rothman joked, "Netflix my ass!" after a stunning presentation of footage from Denis Villeneuve's "Blade Runner 2049", implying the film could only be appreciated on a massive screen in theaters. He has said that streaming movies shouldn't be considered for Oscars unless they have a traditional run in theaters.

Iconic director Steven Spielberg has been leading the fight against Netflix since a year ago, when he agreed with the Cannes Film Festival banning streaming movies from competing for its top prize.

As Indiewire noted, the movie industry may have gripes about Netflix's business tactics, including its refusal to abide by industry standard, 90 day theatrical release windows and heavy Oscars lobbying, but it does match the same qualifying theatrical release targets as many smaller and indie releases. Netflix has softened its stance on the matter over the past year, releasing "Roma" in theaters exclusively for a couple weeks, but the company doesn't plan to give movies much more time than that, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos told Bloomberg.

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However, Variety reported in early March 2019 that Spielberg was planning on pressing the issue further with Academy members, and Netflix has fired back - that's not even considering that the numerous other streaming services already in operation or being planned for launch in the near future are going to feel just as strongly about plans to exclude them.

An Academy spokesperson replied, "We've received a letter from the Dept. of Justice and have responded accordingly".

The letter obtained by Variety was written by Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, to AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson on March 21. Its Board of Governors will hold their yearly rule meeting on April 23rd. The board of governors is tasked with setting the Academy's strategic vision. If the Academy proceeds with the proposed changes, the Justice Department could kick off a probe into its practices, this person said.

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