Justice Department says attempts to prevent Netflix from Oscars eligibility could violate antitrust law

The US Department of Justice UU He has sent a letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in which he warns that any attempt to ban or limit Netflix and other broadcasting services for Oscar eligibility could violate the antitrust law, considering that the membership of the Academy includes studies and conglomerate media that compete with Netflix, Amazon and others.

The letter, whose existence and content reported Variety exclusively today, suggests that federal authorities monitor Hollywood after reports earlier this year that filmmakers and studios would seek rule changes designed to Make it difficult for broadcast services to qualify for Oscars. Instead, as director Steven Spielberg has proposed, these films should be eligible only for Emmys, unless they ensure broad theatrical releases that do not coincide with a simultaneous release on broadcast platforms.

"In the event that the Academy, an association that includes several competitors in its membership, establishes certain eligibility requirements for the Oscars that eliminate competition without a favorable justification for competition, such conduct may generate antitrust concerns" , wrote Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General of the DOJ antitrust division, in the letter addressed to AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson.

Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other streaming service providers have been making their way into traditional Hollywood awards, winning Oscar and Emmys awards for A variety of programming such as budgets, renowned talent and the subsequent quality of these shows and movies has drastically increased. But Netflix, more than other streaming services, has usually only made limited theatrical runs so that its films meet eligibility requirements for the award.

The first candidate for the Best Film of the company, Rome of the famous director Alfonso Cuarón, had a theatrical participation limited in the EE. UU Last fall before its release of Netflix in December, and won three Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film. The window-based approach was due to the fact that theaters chains in the USA. UU Normally they fought Netflix through the windows of exclusivity, which requires that films be shown in theaters before appearing in the service. The consequences of Netflix's desire for so-called day and date releases have caused great controversy in several films, including the cult hit Snowpiercer and the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon .

In a more public discussion, the Cannes Film Festival succeeded in getting Netflix to retire last year due to the requirement that participating films secure local and French theatrical releases with some length to be eligible for the prestigious Palme prize. d & # 39; Or. That happened after the Cannes leadership faced the reaction of the independent film community and the French theater industry when Netflix was allowed to circumvent the requirements for Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories ] in the previous year.

Netflix has made an effort to start showing more original movies in cinemas before publishing them in their broadcast service. However, the company has drawn the ire of traditional filmmakers and theater chains, namely, Spielberg, who in February of this year said at an awards ceremony that he is "a firm believer that cinemas should be present. forever". Accepting the Filmmaker Award According to the Cinema Audio Society's CAS Awards, Spielberg said: "I hope that all of us continue to believe that the greatest contribution we can make as filmmakers is to provide the audience with the cinematic theater experience." Last year, Spielberg told ITV Ne ws, "I do not believe that films that only receive symbolic qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination."

Netflix has tried to monitor a strong position here by sending a tweet following Spielberg's comments and reports that he and others would push the Academy to establish eligibility requirements similar in design to those at Cannes. "We love cinema," the company said in its statement. "We also love … access for people who can not always afford, or live in trailers without, theaters, leaving everyone, everywhere to enjoy releases at the same time, giving filmmakers more ways to share art. These things are not mutually exclusive. "

Netflix can have the general public and its growing and massive user base, many of them The feeling that the theatrical experience has become too expensive, for its part in this debate. However, the company is facing an industry in which filmmakers, theater chains, Hollywood studios and almost every other element of the entertainment industry have a financial incentive to maintain the status quo and maintain the life of the theaters and the theatrical experience as lucrative as possible. Netflix's willingness to show more movies in theaters and to show the release of the Rome broadcast is evidence that the company can make more concessions in the future.

But, as the Department of Justice letter makes clear, efforts to damage Netflix's ability to compete in awards programs (participation that can often financially benefit studios and filmmakers through increasing the sales and notoriety) may violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act. "Agreements between competitors to exclude new competitors may violate antitrust laws when their purpose or effect is to prevent competition for goods or services that consumers buy and enjoy, but which threaten the profits of established firms," ​​Delrahim wrote in your letter. "If the Academy adopts a new rule to exclude certain types of films, such as movies distributed through online broadcast services, from eligibility for Oscars, and that exclusion tends to decrease sales of excluded films, that rule could violate Section 1. "

According to Variety the Academy confirmed that it received the letter and its Board of Governors intends to meet at its annual meeting of rules on April 23. Make the issue of the Particularly renewed interest for the Department of Justice is the substantial consolidation that is occurring in the media.After the merger of AT & T with Time Warner, a series of thorny regulatory problems can arise now that the traditional conglomerates of telecommunications and media have more than the infrastructure to offer video on the Internet in a way that could hinder the competition of Netflix and dozens of companies And, of course, many of those same corporations that participate in the war for participation in the broadcast market, from AT & T and Comcast to Sony and Walt Disney, also own the largest film studios on the planet. .

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