The Rocky Relationship of Netflix And The Oscars - And Why Brands Care


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Going For The Grab But Getting The Snub

Since their inception, streaming services like Netflix have been turning the entertainment industry on its head. The radical shift can be traced back to Netflix’s efficient DVD delivery service back in 1998, making its rival, Blockbuster, eventually obsolete. This was followed by the launch of its digital streaming platform in 2007, but we’d argue that the biggest glass ceiling moment so far came in 2013 with their release of the insanely popular and critically acclaimed series House of Cards.

The release of this series, and many more after it like Orange is the New Black and Ozark, made Netflix not only a staple in households worldwide, but a serious force to be reckoned with during Emmy’s season. In 2018 they tied with HBO for the most Emmy wins. So, now that they’ve earned success in television, can they do the same with film? In this blog, Hollywood Branded takes a look at the complicated relationship between Netflix and The Oscars, and the hurdles they must jump through to get there - and why brands should care.

Netflix's Love Hate Relationship With The Oscars

Oscar’s Theater Policy

The Oscars, in addition to many other esteemed film festivals like Cannes, require that all films have a theatrical release in order to qualify for nominations. As these streaming services deliver their content immediately to their subscribers, companies like Netflix are forced to revert to the traditional theatrical release model in order to qualify for the award. 

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What’s The Big Deal?

Some argue, who really cares? If Amazon produces a great film, subscribers will be able to enjoy it and come to trust that Amazon has quality content. But… it’s much larger than that. Quality films require quality filmmakers, and quality filmmakers want their accolades, not to mention that the streaming service wants those accolades.  And so do brand partners.

For instance, the hit film Crazy Rich Asians was initially set to be a Netflix release and the director made the last minute choice to go for a theatrical release instead, in an effort to have the minority-based cast and film be eligible for all major film awards. Minority-driven films are not a common occurrence in major motion picture comedies, and having the eligibility would not only be a PR wonderland, but also create a positive impact on award shows like the Oscars.

Crazy Rich Asians

Getting These Films Into Theaters

Netflix’s film chief, Scott Stuber is trying to find a solution to the lack of theatrical release ending the awards show run potential. According to Hollywood Reporter, Stuber called around to theater chains asking if they’d run their 2018 award contenders, like Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, for a few weeks if the streaming service withheld them from their subscribers for a set time period. His request to infiltrate and partner with major chains was denied, as they seemingly did not want to upset the major distributors, so Netflix instead took Roma, and other worthy titles, to rented indie cinemas in order to qualify. While this proves to be a solution to the theater-run problem, it’s opening Netflix up to a whole fresh issue moving forward.

Roma Netflix

The Cuaron Treatment

Dubbed the “Cuaron treatment”, Netflix is now dealing with filmmakers who won’t sign on to do their film with Netflix unless they’re getting a guaranteed theatrical release. Until now major filmmakers like Michael Bay, Martin Scorsese, and Guillermo Del Toro have accepted major pay bumps due to the theatrical exclusivity issue.

However, now that Netflix is offering a theatrical release to some of its films, these filmmakers are reconsidering. And as they see select titles getting a run, they too want a theatrical guarantee. Regardless of the times, the theater is still where directors’ interests lie.

And this is what our team at Hollywood Branded believes may result in Netflix becoming an owner in select theaters in cities like Los Angeles or New York, or even larger stakeholders in theater chains - so that they can guarantee theatrical release prior to distribution on their own SVOD network.

What About Amazon?

Well, Amazon gives the filmmakers what they want… a robust theatrical run. As the Hollywood Reporter continues, Cinemark CEO, Mark Zoradi, says that Netflix’s two-week runs just aren’t enough to justify running these films in their theaters. Until Netflix can bite the bullet like Amazon and commit to a robust theatrical release, they’re not interested.

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Only Roma Will Tell

Roma ran in theaters for three weeks before its December 14th Netflix debut. Other Netflix films which received similar treatment this year are Sandra Bullock’s Bird Box and the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster. The two films ran theatrically for one week in LA, NYC, and San Francisco before heading to our smart TV’s.

The reality is, that we most likely will never know what will come of these releases when it comes to box office revenue. And it really doesn't matter.  After Netflix’s theatrical release of Beasts of No Nation flopped in 2015, they stopped reporting box office grosses so just like viewership info on their platform, we most likely will never know how lucrative these theater runs really are for the streaming giant. However, if Roma ends up being the critical success many are building it up to be, this could be the start of a very interesting future for Netflix.

One solution we hear the brand is exploring is starting up theater chains of their own. Here they could exclusively advertise their own content in previews and really own the viewing experience.

 Netflix For The W?

One thing’s for sure, our good friend Oscar doesn’t seem to be budging. Call it old school, but the members of the Academy still greatly respect the art of viewing a film in the theater. So the big question is, what's an Oscar worth to Netflix?


The more the streaming service pours into these strongly casted and directed films, the more we're willing to bet that they'll want the accolades. Regardless of how many great positive critical reviews you'll read online, nothing and we do mean nothing beats an Oscar.  Including for those brands who get involved during production with product placement.

The interesting question is, as more of these films come to light, how does Netflix plan to support them? Will they budge and give their films a strong theatrical release before they hit viewers at home, similar to Amazon? Or is a Netflix theater coming to an area near you? 

What's next?

To learn some more insights and behind the scenes look at the film industry, check out some other blog posts we've written on the film industry...

Interested in learning more about entertainment marketing and how to align your brand with the industry? Check out our Influencer & Entertainment Marketing Advice for free!

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