Steven Spielberg is on the Wrong Side of History

Steven Spielberg wants to ban Netflix from the Academy Awards, here’s why he’s fighting a battle he cannot and should not win.


Netflix is a media powerhouse, it carries the distinction of being the largest streaming service in the world as well as being the father to every other streaming service around today. From Hulu to Crackle to any other service imaginable, none of them would exist without Netflix. They are again leading a revolution of creating original content to be delivered directly to their subscribers, hit productions such as Stranger Things, Roma, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs are all Netflix originals, and all have been nominated for multiple Emmys/Oscars for their excellence. Their film Roma in particular is the standout of the Netflix lineup, pulling in 10 nominations (including Best Picture) at the 2019 Oscars and coming away with three wins. Netflix’s success at the Oscars has upset a certain subsection of oldheads in the Hollywood community, one that grew up in a time where movies could only be seen in theaters, and have a lot of stock (both figuratively and monetarily) in business of movie theaters. They feel threatened by Netflix and other streaming services and see them as a dangerous alternative to the traditional way of watching new films. Legendary director Steven Spielberg has spearheaded this movement, and plans on preventing any movies released on streaming services from being eligible for any Oscars ever again. According to the Washington Examiner, Spielberg is not backing down from the issue any time soon, and is looking for support within the industry.

“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation,” a spokesperson for Spielberg’s film and production company told IndieWire. “He’ll be happy if the others will join [his campaign] when that comes up [at the Academy Board of Governors meeting]. He will see what happens.”

This means that Spielberg (with the support of others in the film industry) will petition the Academy later this year to not allow any movies released on streaming services that do not receive a minimum of a four-week theatrical release to be considered for any Oscars. Spielberg is completely out of touch and on the wrong side of history for several reasons.

The first and most obvious is that streaming services are growing, and movie theater attendance is declining. According to Bloomberg, domestic movie theater attendance hit a 25-year low in 2017, with around 1.24 billion tickets sold in the US and Canada combined. People simply aren’t going to the movies as much anymore, and the reasons are clear. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu offer a combination of popular content as well a lineup of their own originally produced movies, TV shows, and documentaries that subscribers can pay a monthly fee as low as $5.99 a month (Hulu) and as high as $15.99 a month (Netflix) to access anywhere on a multitude of devices.

This ease, convenience, and the considerable amount of quality content that these services provide is enough to hold subscribers over until movies released in theaters eventually make their way to those streaming platforms. And all of this combined with rising ticket prices is enough to keep subscribers on their couches instead of in the theater. Simply put, the theatrical experience is slowly dying and most likely will never recover. While there will always be theaters for people to go to, there will not be as many. The prestige and allure that Spielberg and co. are so desperately trying to cling onto from their glory days is simply nonexistent in today’s generation of movie watchers. And forcibly trying to restore it by banning any movies released exclusively on any streaming platform won’t only be a step backwards, it will backfire by preventing new-age film fans from being able to see the movies that they watch represented at the awards shows, which will not sit well with the 137 million subscribers that Netflix alone boasts.

Another thing to take into consideration is not just the subscribers that don’t want to spend their money at the movies, it’s the group that can’t, either because they can’t afford it, or because their town doesn’t even have a movie theater. The estimated number of people in the U.S. living in poverty was 39.7 million in 2017, and movie consumers who use cheap alternatives like to theaters like Hulu or Netflix would again be unable to see any of the original content created for them represented at the Oscars. Banning any movie that does not receive a four-week theatrical release from contending for awards is flat-out discrimination. Not only against viewers who are unable to watch movies in theaters, but also against films and filmmakers who use streaming platforms as an alternative to the traditional, monotonous, and increasingly expensive and declining movie theater industry. Audiences are fed up with theaters, they don’t want to pay the high ticket and snack prices and would much rather sit at home and enjoy their movies from their couch, but Steven Spielberg is hell-bent on prying those viewers off the couch and forcing them to spend upwards of $13 on a ticket just to prop of the dying theater industry, all in the name of nostalgia.

Netflix’s new tactic of functioning as a full-blown studio and buying the rights to upcoming releases to premiere on their platform has also been a breath of fresh air to the film business. It allows filmmakers to circumvent the traditional process of selling the rights to a studio, who in turn finds a distributor to market and lease the film to theaters. Netflix cuts out multiple middle men by functioning as the studio, distributor, and theater. Which is beneficial to everyone involved by allowing the filmmaker to retain creative freedom on their project without having to worry about studio interference. As well as saving money for the film’s audience by allowing everyone to access it on their platform wherever and whenever they want. The thought that those films which are beneficial both in convenience and price to everyone involved would be banned from contending for Oscars simply because they are revolutionizing a dying and unnecessary industry built on exploiting its customers is ludicrous and should be swiftly shut down by the Academy.  

Spielberg and his supporters are coming from a very particular, old-fashioned point of view on this issue. They come from a different time where movie theaters ruled the industry, due to the fact that there really was no alternative. But as time moves forward, there are always going to be advancements in virtually every field, and the movie industry is no different. Generally speaking, diversity is beneficial to any industry it finds its way in to, and streaming services offer just that. They bring diversity to the industry by offering a multitude of options at various price points to a much wider range of viewers than theaters. When you take into account the dying theater business, skyrocketing ticket prices, and the absolute ease and convenience of streaming services, it’s clear to see where the movie industry is inevitable headed. Oldheads like Spielberg are simply attempting to delay the inevitable while at the same time try to line their pockets with as much theater cash as possible by trying to delegitimize streaming services. They simply want to stay in their bubble of movie theaters being the only “real” way to experience a movie due to a combination of financial greed and incapacity for change. A bubble that will soon be burst forever.