If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ever wants to limit the eligibility of streaming services for the Oscars, it might have to contend with the US government first. The Department of Justice has warned the Academy that rule changes limiting services like Netflix and Amazon might violate antitrust law if they effectively "suppress competition." The Sherman Act bars anti-competitive agreements between rivals, the DOJ wrote, and that would include awards restrictions that hurt a streaming company's sales.
An Academy spokesperson confirmed to Variety that it had received the DOJ notice and had "responded accordingly," although it didn't specify what its answer was. Its Board of Governors will hold their yearly rule meeting on April 23rd.
Studios have sometimes accused online services of 'cheating' the Oscars system with short theatrical release windows, secret viewer data and simultaneous worldwide launches that hurt foreign distributors. Rule changes could force movies to stay theater-only for longer or else force companies to disclose their audience numbers. Streaming services would either have to embrace conventional movie distribution or forego the Oscars altogether.
Netflix and other streaming proponents have argued that it's vital to give online video equal consideration. It makes movies accessible to people who couldn't otherwise go, and enables both indie filmmakers as well as anyone whose project might have trouble surviving in a blockbuster-obsessed theatrical landscape. There's a self-serving goal of increasing viewership, of course, but there's also a concern that Hollywood is trying to protect the past instead of embracing the future.