Oscars Execs Defend Rule Change to Allow Streaming Films: ‘Theatrical Will Always Be the Academy’s Priority’

Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson say the new rule allowing streaming films to qualify for the Oscars is a temporary exception

Last Updated: April 28, 2020 @ 5:21 PM

For the first time ever, films that premiere on a streaming service will be eligible for Academy Awards this year — but don’t expect that new rule to last.

The rule change, which was approved by the Academy’s Board of Governors on Tuesday morning, allows films to qualify for the 2020 Oscars if they were scheduled for theatrical releases that they then lost because of theater closings in the wake of the coronavirus. But according to Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson, who spoke to TheWrap on Tuesday afternoon, it is only an interim solution to a specific problem.

“We want to be clear that the theatrical experience is the Academy’s priority and always will be,” Hudson said. “But we understand that at this time it’s just not possible for filmmakers, so we had to make exceptions.”

So there’s no chance it will be permanent, or will represent a new AMPAS attitude about theatrical v. streaming?

“Absolutely not,” Hudson said.

“That’s crystal clear,” Rubin added.

Under the rules announced on Tuesday, the exemption for streaming premieres will last until “a date to be determined by the Academy, and when theaters reopen in accordance with federal, state and local specified guidelines and criteria.”

Until then, Hudson and Rubin say they’re simply waiting for more information before they’ll know how to proceed. That also means, they added, that they can’t start drawing up plans for what might happen with other Academy events, including the Student Academy Awards (which usually takes place in the fall), the Governors Awards (October or November) or the Oscars themselves, which are currently scheduled for February 28, 2021.

“We’re in Week 7, Stage 1 of this pandemic,” Hudson said. “I don’t know what’s happening next week, let alone next fall.”

Rubin added, “We do know that we have to be fluid and nimble as the weeks unfold. And we have to keep our eyes on the prize, which is doing what’s best for our members and the filmmaking community. We’ll have to adjust as events unfold.”

The pandemic crisis has reinforced the overall value of film to audiences coping with unforeseen events. “What we’re stuck by, and what the conversation has been for us, is how important movies are during this time of crisis,” Hudson said. “They are connecting us — and speaking for myself, I’m appreciating the time when can I go back to theaters.”

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