Netflix-Academy Standoff Draws A Warning From DOJ Antitrust Chief

Netflix Oscars

Netflix has gained an unlikely ally in its effort to remain a force in the Oscar race: The U.S. Department of Justice.

Makan Delrahim, the head of the DOJ’s antitrust division, sent a letter last month to Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In the letter, the AT&T-Time Warner foe makes the case that changes to eligibility rules contemplated by the Academy could wind up unduly harming Netflix or other streaming services.

The letter cites the Sherman Act, which has governed antitrust law since 1890. There could be a violation, Delrahim writes, 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.” He noted that such a move could be interpreted as a group of established entities displaying anti-competitive behavior designed to harm a new rival.

Netflix is not a babe in the woods, however. The Silicon Valley giant has spent billions ramping up a formidable movie machine, releasing dozens of films, from teen rom-coms to arthouse titles to higher-budget films from household names. It plans releases from Michael Bay and Martin Scorsese in 2019, extending the pattern.

During the recent Oscar season, Netflix spent tens of millions of dollars on a blitz for Roma, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other films. While the streaming giant came away with four wins out of 15 nominations, including three for Alfonso Cuarón’s critically lauded Roma, the fact that films appeared only in select theaters a few weeks before arriving on the streaming service rankled many Academy members. One of the most rankled turned out to be Steven Spielberg. The director derided Roma as a “TV movie” and called for significant changes to Academy rules to make it tougher on films championed by streaming services to ignore traditional release windows and protocols en route to nominations.

The Academy Board of Governors is scheduled to have its annual awards rules meeting on April 23.

One of the major themes of Oscar season was the disruption caused by Netflix, whose methods and culture are distinct from Hollywood tradition, even though it has also championed many projects from A-listers past and present.

The Academy did not immediately respond to Deadline’s request for comment.

Variety had the first report about the letter from Delrahim, affirming that the Academy said it has “responded accordingly” to the letter.

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