Widespread theater closures have forced the Academy of Arts and Sciences for feature films to loosen the rules by which films qualify for Oscars.
This doesn't seem like a major breakthrough in a year in which Netflix received the most Oscar nominations of all studios and the streamer's original films ultimately won two Oscars.
However, to compete in Best Picture and other categories, films must be screened commercially in a theater in Los Angeles for at least seven days, even if they are streamed at the same time. And last year there were reports of debates about increasing the demands on the theater so that it would have been more difficult for streaming films to assert themselves.
Today, however, the academy announced that a film that was originally scheduled for a theatrical release and would instead be launched via streaming or video on demand is still eligible. At the same time, the announcement emphasizes that this is a temporary change that will no longer apply "if the theaters are reopened in accordance with the guidelines and criteria set by the federal, state and local authorities".
The pandemic has also prompted the Academy to rethink the LA-centered nature of its requirements. With the reopening of the theaters, the list of qualified theaters will be expanded to include venues in New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta.
This announcement comes as Hollywood studios have delayed several blockbusters in response to corona virus closures, while some films (such as Disney's "Onward" and NBCUniversal's "The Invisible Man") have posted online faster and others (such as "Artemis Fowl" and "The Lovebirds") directly for streaming.
In a statement, Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson said:
The Academy firmly believes that there is no better way to experience the magic of films than to see them in a theater. Our commitment to this remains unchanged and steadfast. However, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic requires this temporary exception from our award eligibility rules. The academy supports our members and colleagues in this time of uncertainty. We know how important it is that their work is seen and celebrated, especially now that the audience appreciates films more than ever.