Oscars change streaming rules amid battle for future of cinemas

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The 93rd Academy Awards will be held in February 2021

The body behind the Oscars has changed its rules so that films that debut in streaming or video on demand services are eligible for next year’s awards.

Current Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rules state that films can only enter if they have been shown in a Los Angeles movie theater for at least a week.

But with cinemas closed during the coronavirus crisis, organizers said a “temporary” exception was needed.

Many film releases have been delayed, while others have gone directly to digital.

“The Academy firmly believes there is no better way to experience the magic of films than to see them in a theater,” said Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson.

“However, the historically tragic Covid-19 pandemic requires this temporary exception to our award eligibility rules.”

The Academy said that the exemption will end with the reopening of the cinemas.

In recent years, the Oscars have admitted films made by streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, but only if they have also had a film release.

What the pandemic will mean for the Oscars

Lizo Mzimba, BBC correspondent for entertainment

The way the Oscars would celebrate the 2020 films would always have been different. Now we know more about how it will work. But uncertainty about how cinemas work will continue to play a role in the mix of competing films.

In some cases, studios have chosen to delay the release of Oscar candidates until next year, in order to have a greater chance of making a profit when cinemas are more likely to function normally. For example, the big-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical In The Heights moved from June this year to June 2021.

And while others are currently looking to release this year – such as Christopher Nolan Tenet’s drama and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story – it may still change in the coming months. Especially if, when cinemas reopen widely, there are large-scale restrictions on audience size for a significant period.

At the same time, low-budget independent films may find that adjusting their plans from a theatrical version to a digital version before the end of the year works better for them than a long delay. Streaming giants like Netflix are probably the least affected.

So the 2021 Oscars could see a different balance between fewer studio films and more independent films, with the streamers continuing to make great progress. But the uncertainty about the rest of the year and the possibility that the Academy Awards will bring further changes such as the modification of the eligibility period, means that at this moment nobody can be sure of what the next Oscars will be like.

The change of rule comes on a growing scale on how films are released.

Universal Pictures recently launched Trolls World Tour online and anticipated the release date of some other titles on-demand.

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The animated sequel Trolls World Tour was slated for a theatrical release in early April

The film studio has since suggested that this policy will continue after the cinemas reopen, prompting a large chain to say it would ban its films in its cinemas.

Such a boycott would have an impact on future Universal releases such as Fast & Furious 9 and the James Bond film No Time to Die.

They are both among the successes that have had their planned versions postponed due to the pandemic.

  • Fast and Furious 9 postponed for 11 months
  • New James Bond movie delayed for seven months

Before the current upheaval, studios waited 90 days after the cinema opened to publish their films digitally.

Universal has unquestionably pioneered the change of this model by recently bringing VOD versions of titles like Emma, ​​The Hunt and The Invisible Man.

Recent UK publications such as Military Wives and Misbehavior were also released in digital format much earlier than would normally have been the case.

In the meantime, in addition to changing its rules to adapt to streaming movies, the Academy has also decided to combine its two sound awards in one category.

From 2021, there will be a single prize for best sound instead of separate awards for mixing and editing of sound.

The 93rd Academy Awards will be held in Los Angeles on February 28, 2021.

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