The Conundrum with Steven Spielberg’s Stance on Streaming
We’re living in a strange time for feature films. The model has changed, the way people watch films has changed, and everything is moving in a digital direction— just like digital music before it. We all know what happened to the Blockbusters of the world once Netflix got their hands in the game. So, how much time do we have before the streaming services start taking out movie theaters, too? It’s a growing concern among filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg. It was recently reported that Spielberg wants to convince the Academy of Motion Pictures to have films released on streaming services and to not be eligible with the Oscars. Instead, he insists they be placed in the television movie category at the Emmys.
This is something that I am personally torn on.
I feel like we are at a point where movies should be movies, regardless of where they are released, and as long as they fit the time requirements to be a feature-length film. In todays digital age, the idea of the “television movie” seems like an outdated one. Back in the day, the difference between a theatrical movie and a TV movie was pretty noticeable; with theatrical movies having a higher production value and featured bigger stars. Now, the production values of these streaming films are just as high, if not higher than their theatrical counterparts, with some of the biggest stars and directors signed on. So, what is really the difference anymore (besides that they aren’t shown in the theatre)? Sure, seeing a film in a theater is a vastly different experience than watching it in your home, but at the end of the day when that theatrical film makes its way to home video, it becomes the same as a film that released through streaming.
You can also view this as Spielberg’s way to try and push some filmmakers away from streaming services, and bring them back over to the traditional studios. Filmmakers gunning for an Oscar might think twice before aligning themselves with a streaming service, like Netflix, if they know they’ll only be eligible for an Emmy (which is still a very prestigious award, but obviously different from an Oscar). It is a way of rewarding the filmmakers for continuing to support theatrical cinema— or is he doing this to force streaming services to put more of their films in the theaters as well? Netflix will release some of their films in theaters, but only for a short amount of time, which is usually a two week (or less) window.
Streaming services are not going away; it’s too late for that. Services, like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, are only the beginning. Apple is soon to get into the streaming business, as well as Disney with their Disney + service. Therefore, if it can’t be stopped there needs to be a way for the two to coexists. As much as they can hurt movie theater ticket sales, I don’t hate what the streaming services are trying to do. They’re green lighting films that might not otherwise get made, which opens up additional avenues for filmmakers— that’s a good thing, and so is competition. There’s no reason why both can’t exist, but it’s hard to say which direction it will ultimately take. Will the traditional studios up their game, green light more projects, and take more risks in order to compete with Netflix and the like of the world? Even if they do have incredible content, will people just not care enough to spend the extra cash when new content is popping up on streaming services every week? Will the traditional studios ultimately concede and start creating their own streaming services, or join forces with a current one? I think it’s too early to tell, but it is worth keeping in mind because the day one of these possibilities happen, it will be here before we know it.
Ultimately, this is an incredibly tricky situation. I do believe that a film should be considered a film, regardless of where it is released. At the same time, I care more about the preservation of theatrical cinema than I do about an award show. So, if that is what Spielberg is ultimately trying to do, then I’m all for it even though I don’t agree with putting them in separate award categories. Although at the end of the day, it feels like he is fighting the future. If we want to insure movie theaters are around forever, there has to be a better way than locking streaming films out of the Oscars. What that better way is I don’t know, but hopefully somebody will figure it out soon…