Apple’s Original Movies Can Still Win Oscars – But They’ll Have to Follow This Hidden Rule

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Despite a recent push from some quarters to change the eligibility criteria for Academy Awards, it appears that movies by streaming services such as Apple TV+ and Netflix are going to continue to be able to qualify under the same rules as before.

Earlier this year, Hollywood mogul Steven Spielberg spoke out against the idea of of streaming productions qualifying for the prestigious Academy Awards, after Netflix’s Roma managed to earn a best-picture nomination despite what Spielberg called a merely “token” release in theatres. Under Rule Two of the Academy’s eligibility rules, motion pictures must be publicly shown at a commercial theatre in Los Angeles for at least seven consecutive days with three screenings available per day in “a manner normal and customary to theatrical feature distribution practices.”

In other words, as long as a movie made by Apple, Amazon, or Netflix is shown in a theatre for at least seven days in the same way as any other feature film, it was eligible for consideration — regardless of whether or not it debuted elsewhere at the same time. Movies were only disqualified if they received their first public exhibition elsewhere before showing in theatres.

However, as it stood, at least some members of the Academy’s Board of Governors, including Spielberg, considered the eligibility criteria to be insufficient to protect the integrity of the Oscars. Netflix, for example, ran Roma for almost the bare minimum required to meet the eligibility criteria, which technically only requires a seven-day run in a single L.A. theatre. While it’s unclear what specific changes Spielberg and his allies were pushing for, but the concerns he raised were tied to the idea that movies on streaming services should be viewed as “TV movies” and therefore considered for Emmys, not Oscars.

Ultimately, however, it seems that the Academy’s Board of Governors as a whole has disagreed. In a vote on Tuesday night, the board approved its Oscars rules for the 92nd Academy Awards next year, specifically voting to maintain Rule Two as-is.

We support the theatrical experience as integral to the art of motion pictures, and this weighed heavily in our discussions. Our rules currently require theatrical exhibition, and also allow for a broad selection of films to be submitted for Oscars consideration. We plan to further study the profound changes occurring in our industry and continue discussions with our members about these issues.

John Bailey, President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Of course, the Academy may have also been on shaky legal ground in this area as well. A letter from the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this month suggested that shutting streaming providers out of the Oscars could be viewed as a violation of antitrust laws. It’s unclear whether this had any impact on the Academy’s decision, but it certainly seems like it would have encouraged them to tread more lightly in making any changes to the eligibility rules.

While the Academy’s Board hasn’t ruled out making changes in the future — Academy President John Bailey notes that they plan to continue discussing the issues presented by new services and technologies — for next year at least, streaming services will be able to remain in the running.

This is certainly good news for Apple, which has already been setting itself up to bid for Oscars, although with Apple TV+ launching this fall and little news on movie projects at Apple, it remains to be seen whether the company is going to have anything ready for the 92nd Oscars next February — to be eligible under the Academy’s rules, Apple would still have to have a movie ready for submission by November 15, 2019 and begin its actual seven-day qualifying theatrical run by December 31, 2019.

Further, those only are the rules for standard theatrical motion pictures. Apple is of course working on other types of movies, with a particularly strong push into documentary films, however the eligibility requirements for documentary films are even more stringent than for feature films, requiring either theatrical releases in both L.A. and New York City or the receipt of, or nomination for, another qualifying documentary film award.

With Amazon and Netflix already ahead of the game, however, it seems likely that Apple is going to try and have at least something ready for next year’s Oscars, as even despite the A-list talent the company was able to show off at its March 25 event, being in the consideration for an Academy Award is still going to be an important feather in its cap when it comes to being taken seriously by Hollywood.

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