Who Benefits From Oscars’ New Theatrical Run Rule? Might Be Streamers.

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At first glance, it seems pretty obvious why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently updated its rules for how to qualify for Best Picture. The organization added a requirement for movies to spend more time in theaters to be eligible for the most coveted prize in Hollywood.

The move appears to favor movie theaters, serving as the Academy’s way of saying “we have your backs” after three years of box office despair induced by the pandemic.

It seems like a giant snub to streamers, who have increasingly raised their profile in the awards categories, culminating in last year’s Best Picture win by AppleTV+’s CODA, the first Best Picture winner released by a streamer.

The new rules demand that, starting next year, Oscar-qualifying movies be released for at least two weeks instead of one in the top six markets, though the release days can be nonconsecutive. The second week of release has to be in 10 of the country’s top 50 markets (or two international markets can be subbed if they’re in the top 15 globally), and it has to occur within 45 days of the movie’s premiere.

“It is our hope that this expanded theatrical footprint will increase the visibility of films worldwide and encourage audiences to experience our art form in a theatrical setting,” said a statement released by Academy CEO Bill Kramer and President Janet Yang. “Based on many conversations with industry partners, we feel that this evolution benefits film artists and movie lovers alike.”

Prestige Doesn’t Drive Box Office

But the move may not have quite the boost for theaters that the Academy seems to hope. For one thing, Oscar contenders tend to be prestige films, scoring high on critics’ lists but low on box office receipts. The last time a Best Picture winner grossed more than $100 million domestically was Argo in 2012.

And it’s no different whether a streamer or a traditional studio produces a film—Netflix
isn’t going to suddenly send Chris Hemsworth’s latest action blockbuster into theaters based on this new rule because it knows Oscar voters aren’t going to vote for it anyway.

Thus, it’s relatively easy for a streamer to choose the one or two films it wants to promote and meet the new guidelines. That’s also in part because Netflix, Apple
and Amazon
, three of the top streaming movie producers, have deep pockets and can easily afford such a campaign. In fact, smaller or independent studios will be more impacted by the change than streaming services. They may not be able to foot the price of wider releases.

Cinema is already on its way back. The studios have ramped up the number of releases, even without the Best Picture-qualifier incentives. According to a report from Bloomberg Intelligence, there will be 100 wide releases in the U.S. this year compared to 76 last year. That’s approaching the 120 released in the last pre-pandemic year. BI has also estimated that box office will top $8 billion for the first time since 2019, or almost two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels.

But amid this backdrop, consumers have become very used to seeing even the most highly anticipated films available for streaming in a matter of weeks. Disney+, for instance, used a streaming-first release model for several of its most high-profile films in 2020, and has continued to roll hits out quickly as it fights for both theater revenues and subscription gains.

“The pandemic disruption created brand-new business models as theaters and studios attempted to deal with a very challenging, unique movie marketplace,” notes Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore

Streamers Stand To Make Money, Too

And actually, the streamers could simply find a secondary revenue source that pays off. Netflix released last year’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery for the minimal number of days to qualify for the Oscars, and it still grossed $13.3 million in five days across 700 screens, according to BI, marking a new high for Netflix. It could have more than doubled that with a wider, longer release, which really benefits Netflix (think of all the glowing press) more than any theater showing the film.

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