The feud between the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and streaming giant Netflix has taken an interesting turn. This after Steven Spielberg's planned push to keep streaming titles away from Oscar contention, barring films that debut on streaming services or only have a limited theatrical run. This is seemingly a deep-seated opinion for Spielberg that goes back before the last Oscar’s season. Spielberg's ideas here are being discussed in the Academy's circles as possible rule changes.

Netflix, for its part, said when these reports of possible rule changes first began to air, "We love cinema. Here are some things we also love. Access for people who can't always afford, or live in towns without, theaters. Letting everyone, everywhere enjoy releases at the same time. Giving filmmakers more ways to share art. These things are not mutually exclusive."

The heat in this feud has turned up to the point that Helen Mirren herself weighed in on this while promoting her new project with Warner Brothers called The Good Liar at Cinemacon in Las Vegas, saying, "I love Netflix, but fuck Netflix."

Mirren went on to say, "There is nothing like sitting in the cinema."

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has taken Netflix’s side in this debate in a one page letter from their Antitrust Division, quoted in its entirety below:

"March 21, 2019

Via U.S. and Electronic Mail

Ms. Dawn Hudson

Chief Executive Officer

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

8949 Wilshire Boulevard

Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Re: Potential Eligibility Rule Changes for the Academy Awards

 

Dear Ms. Hudson:

The Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (the 'Division') has learned through news reporting that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the 'Academy') may consider proposed rules changes limiting eligibility for the Academy Awards (the 'Oscars'). The Division writes to draw your attention to its concerns that may arise if the Academy implements certain restrictions in a way that tends to suppress competition.

In the event that the Academy—an association that includes multiple competitors in its membership—establishes certain eligibility requirements for the Oscars that eliminate competition without procompetitive justification, such conduct may raise antitrust concerns. Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, prohibits anticompetitive agreements among competitors. Accordingly, agreements among competitors to exclude new competitors can violate the antitrust laws when their purpose or effect is to impede competition by goods or services that consumers purchase and enjoy but which threaten the profits of incumbent firms. See Nw. Wholesale Stationers, Inc. v. Pac. Stationery & Printing Co., 472 U.S. 284, 294-97(1985) (agreements to expel a competitor from a cooperative association may violate the Sherman Act).

If the Academy adopts a new rule to exclude certain types of films, such as films distributed via online streaming services, from eligibility for the Oscars, and that exclusion tends to diminish the excluded films' sales, that rule could therefore violate Section 1.

The Division is committed to enforcing the nation's antitrust laws on behalf of American consumers, and appreciates your attention to the Division's concerns as you consider any changes to the eligibility requirements for the Oscars."

Variety sums it up well in looking at two previous mergers that could provide some further light on this, "The letter reflects concerns that the Justice Department has been concerned about the ability of traditional media outlets to limit competition from new streaming video entrants, even those that have grown significantly in recent years like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Those concerns were touched upon in the AT&T-Time Warner transaction and later trial, and also were part of a consent decree reached to clear the Comcast-NBC Universal transaction in 2011. The latter included provisions that governed how the company treated online video distributors, but those conditions expired last year."

Stay tuned for more details on this as we hear them.