The backlash against on-demand services is generational
Steven Spielberg asserts that filmmakers should aim to deliver the ‘motion picture theatrical experience’ and has taken a jab at films that are ‘token qualifications’ for awards- i.e., those with limited theatrical runs primarily owned by streaming services. While he may be forgiven for glorifying the authenticity of theatre-going (for nostalgic reasons if not merely a sheer passion for the artform,) his comments ring dissonant to a new generation of filmmakers and viewers. This new generation has benefited from new, more direct models of distribution. Of course, cinemas offer a unique sensory and communal experience- but they are not being replaced. Those growing up today are bound to perceive cinema differently and may have a different perception of the ‘ideal’ way of watching a film. For the post-Netflix generation, there will be less appeal to going out to see a movie, as home technology and the range of films offered by on-demand services develops. Indeed there may no longer be a ‘true’ theatrical experience if major films stop being made specifically for cinema, especially if they are optimized for TV and laptop screens. Increasingly, the reduced cost, comfort, and ease of accessing movies at home provides a viable alternative, if not replacement, to the cinema. And the benefit of not having to put up with noisy, messy members of the public cannot be understated. Rather than taking a snobbish approach, Spielberg and other deterrers should respect the changing landscape of film, its equally shifting audience, and the need for awards to reflect this.
The backlash against major releases being streamed is not generational and only serves to highlight the distinction between film and TV. Cinema is rooted in a traditional experience that in some ways hasn’t changed since 1895 when the Lumière brothers held the first public movie screening at the Grand Café in Paris. Since then, we’ve seen the advent of sound, color film, improved aspect ratio, ect.- technology has advanced, but the communal experience has stayed mainly the same. Yet when TV became commonplace in homes across America, and soon worldwide, cinema was presented with an existential threat. This has never vanished, though cinematic content and TV broadcasts have consistently served different purposes. However, now that streaming companies are trying to circumvent the theatrical cycle for movies, there’s reason to defend the traditional experience. Cinema is not just about the films themselves, but the act of seeing a film. Those in Spielberg’s camp may see this as akin to a religious event; for those inclined, prayer has a completely different effect in isolation as it does within a group. A more relevant example might be theatre. Can stage-plays or musicals have the same effect on a screen as they do live? It would take dire and extreme circumstances for the Pulitzer Prize to accept non-live plays. We should expect no less from the cinema. To feel this way isn’t being snobbish to younger generations, who may be drawn to streaming over the movie-theatre experience. Instead, it’s about wanting to preserve a particular facet of culture that is at risk of becoming a dying art form if film awards bend their rules to become more inclusive.