It took a pandemic for the Oscars to (temporarily) change their streaming rule


Source: ABC (Image credit: ABC)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that its new rules for films to be eligible for the Oscars. And for this year (and this year only, they say), films that skipped theaters and went straight to streaming will be eligible.

The reason isn't some grand change of heart — it's because of the reason for all things these days. Global pandemic.

Previous rules required that a film "be shown in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County for a theatrical qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily." But Los Angeles County movie theaters have been closed since March 16, 2020. Thus the conundrum.

So this year — and for this year only — the Academy is changing things to allow for streaming. Here's the deal:

Until further notice, and for the 93rd Awards year only, films that had a previously planned theatrical release but are initially made available on a commercial streaming or VOD service may qualify in the Best Picture, general entry and specialty categories for the 93rd Academy Awards

There are some caveats here, and the first comes in the first sentence. Note the "films that had a previously planned theatrical release" bit. So if it wasn't supposed to be coming to theaters, it's not eligible.

And then there's probably my favorite requirement: That "the film must be made available on the secure Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film's streaming or VOD release." Because far be it for the Academy to borrow a Netflix login, apparently.

Beyond that, all the other eligibility rules still apply.

And at some point, all these newfangled streaming rules changes will revert back to their old, crotchety ways. As soon as theaters reopen, the old rules go back into effect, and releases from that point on will have to follow them.

It's all about enjoying movies in the theater, Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson said in a joint statement .

"The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theater. Our commitment to that is unchanged and unwavering. Nonetheless, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic necessitates this temporary exception to our awards eligibility rules. The Academy supports our members and colleagues during this time of uncertainty. We recognize the importance of their work being seen and also celebrated, especially now, when audiences appreciate movies more than ever."

To help future films more easily meet the theatrical requirement once things open up, the Los Angeles County requirement also will be expanded to include New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta.

A couple more changes worth mentioning:

  • All screeners now must include closed captioning.
  • 2021 will be the final year that DVD screeners will be distributed. Same goes for CDs, screenplays and other hardcopy mailings. They'll all be available digitally.

The 93rd Oscars is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. It'll be broadcast, as always, on ABC.