The Oscars are purportedly about honoring the best movies of the year, but they also serve as a proxy war between old-guard Hollywood studios and next-generation streaming services. So if you want to root for the home team this year, you can cheer for your favorite studio to block Netflix from taking the first-ever best picture statue for a streaming service.
This year, Netflix actually has a pretty good shot at the prize that has so long eluded the tech industry. The company reportedly spent $25 million-plus to win Academy votes for its racehorse—the black-and-white, Alfonso Cuarón masterpiece, “Roma.” And it hired Oscar strategist Lisa Taback, the woman behind the campaigns for “The King’s Speech,” “The Artist” and “Spotlight,” to help shepherd Roma to victory.
According to Hollywood Reporter’s number-crunching, “Roma” is now the favorite to win the nod. Though “BlackKkKlansman,” “Green Book” and “The Favourite”—produced by traditional Hollywood studios—also all seem to have a fighting chance.
Traditional Hollywood is already up in arms over the possibility of a streaming upset. After “Roma” picked up four awards at Britain’s Baftas, including best film, a movie theater chain called Vue International went ballistic, calling “Roma” “made-for-TV.” Meanwhile one anonymous Oscar voter described it as an “expensive home movie.” The chief complaint for theaters is that Netflix screened “Roma” for only a few weeks before also putting it online. Movie theaters push for long exclusive periods before movies appear on streaming services. Some in the movie industry support the exclusivity on artistic grounds, others favor it for more overtly business-related motives. For obvious reasons, Netflix disagrees.
But this year, the annual “will they or won’t they” Oscars game takes place against the backdrop of a much fiercer and more consequential struggle between existing entertainment titans and the tech set. Media companies including giants like AT&T Inc. and CBS Corp. increasingly realize that that the threat from Netflix and its ilk isn’t going away, and to compete, they’ll need to become streaming companies themselves, and quickly.
Take, Walt Disney Co. The company is in the midst of building out its planned Disney+ streaming service while taking ownership over Hulu (a service that also got its first Oscar nomination this year). In its push toward online content, Disney faces the ultimate business question: to what extent should it eat into its current revenue sources to lure viewers to its new services?Increasingly signs are pointing toward Disney sacrificing short-term licensing revenue. Netflix killed its shows from Disney-owned Marvel, marking an important split between the companies. And on Thursday, The Information reported that Disney might pull content from its global television channels to feed its two streaming services, cutting into its licensing revenue.
The company’s bet might be a sage investment in the future. But it’s worth remembering that the entertainment world is famously fickle. This awards season, spare a thought for one disrupter that you’re hearing very little about these days: MoviePass Inc. Its parent company’s shares traded below a dollar for months. This month, its stock was finally de-listed from NASDAQ.