I love the idea that Netflix is considering in some way or another buying a few movie theaters in Los Angeles and New York. I mean I love it love it love it.
As everyone who’s written about that news has pointed out, such a purchase would give Netflix a guaranteed venue for its original films that would make them eligible for Academy Awards consideration. Those awards require screening for two weeks in theaters in those cities, something the studio has done for a few of its original productions such as Mudbound and others. It’s essentially Netflix thumbing its nose at the Academy, which I appreciate given that organization’s insistence that films are defined by distribution instead of format, a nonsense position.
What will be interesting to watch is what the Academy’s response to this might be. It’s hard to believe the group will just accept it and admit they got played. Instead, I expect them to go full-on Andy Garcia in Ocean’s 12 and start blowing up cars. (Metaphorically, of course.) There are two possible ways the trade group might react.
1: Change the Rules
It’s easy to see them adjusting the guidelines for awards season in some manner, possibly along the lines of what Cannes has in place, where films in the competition have to play exclusively in French theaters for three years before being available for streaming or download. New guidelines might not be that restrictive but some adjustment that’s specifically designed to make movies that appear on streaming or VOD first or day-and-date with theatrical ineligible is likely.
2: Make the Antitrust Case
The idea that a trade group representing movie theaters or studios might file an antitrust lawsuit citing 1948’s United States vs Paramount is just so ridiculous and desperate that it’s also fairly likely. That case declared ownership of theaters by studios, common at the time, violated antitrust laws because it gave them undue control over where and when their movies played. It effectively dismantled the “studio system” in place to that point because studios no longer could guarantee placement of films and so no longer kept stars and filmmakers under exclusive contract.
AMPAS, NATO and other industry groups have shown their primary commitment is to placing sandbags around the theatrical distribution model to fend off the rising waters of the streaming-first world. That’s not a long-term solution since, continuing the metaphor, all theaters now live in a known flood plain and the rain isn’t stopping anytime soon.
Still…I just love the idea of someone in a Netflix meeting room saying “Well what if we just bought a theater” and everyone agreeing to explore it not only because it might work but also because it’s super-annoying. Whether it happens or not remains to be seen.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.