CODA, Apple’s film, won the Academy Award for best picture on Sunday, defeating Netflix to become the first streaming service to win Hollywood’s most coveted film accolade. Netflix was also nominated in the category for its film The Power of the Dog, and the two streaming services were widely seen as the category’s frontrunners heading into Sunday’s awards presentation.
Apple’s acquisition is certain to improve the fledgling streaming service’s popularity among prospective users, even as competition from Apple TV Plus, Netflix, and other rivals becomes more tough than ever. Several firms have spent billions of dollars in the last three years creating new services in the hopes of competing with Netflix to determine the future of television.
That has resulted in a slew of services to go through and pay for when you find out where you want to watch movies and TV online. Apple’s Oscars victory on Sunday will improve its visibility among some prospective customers, may entice a few lapsed members back into the fold, and will almost certainly make Apple TV Plus a more appealing home for top talent.
However, being the first to snag an elusive prize isn’t always a game changer for streaming services.
Hulu, for example, beat Netflix to win the best-drama Emmy in 2017, but has since been overshadowed by Netflix’s dominance: Netflix has more than 221 million subscribers globally, compared to Hulu’s 45 million.
And Apple TV Plus could be much smaller. Apple has never announced how many people use Apple TV Plus, but The Information reported last summer that the service had about 40 million customers – all while many were taking advantage of Apple’s generous free trials. According to one researcher, 62 percent of Apple TV Plus accounts were watching the service for free as part of a promotion. Since then, Apple has discontinued many of those free promotional subscriptions, which according to another researcher propelled Apple TV Plus to the highest rate of churning members last year.
And, while being less than three years old, Apple is still finding its way in the crowded competitive sector of today’s streaming services. With a multibillion-dollar budget to entice some of Hollywood’s top stars, Apple TV Plus took an unusual approach: it invested in big-budget, star-studded prestige originals and nothing else. Apple TV Plus had only nine titles to watch when it first arrived, with no back catalogue to go into. It has amassed more than 100 titles in the two and a half years since then.
In comparison, Netflix alone is releasing over 100 titles in February, March, and April.
Netflix is the undisputed ruler of streaming, thanks to a combination of first-mover advantage, aggressive expenditure, and a proclivity for upending long-held traditions. The last of them, however, has proven to be a liability when it comes to pursuing Hollywood’s most coveted rewards.
For years, the service has been pursuing an Oscar for best picture. Netflix received its first Oscar nomination in 2014 for a documentary feature and its first Oscar in 2017 for a documentary short since it began producing its own programming a decade ago. Last year, Netflix was the most successful studio on Oscar night, bringing home seven medals, but the best picture trophy remained out of reach.
This year and last, “streaming” films enjoyed a more straightforward path at the Oscars. Because the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted film releases worldwide, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which oversees the Oscars, relaxed eligibility standards, making it easier for streaming-only productions to be nominated.
The extraordinary manner in which movies were released during the pandemic also blurred the borders of what constitutes a streaming movie. Traditional studios often adhere to strict release schedules that keep films exclusively in theatres for six to nine months. During the pandemic, that was thrown out the window. It made Oscar pictures from the last two years more accessible to view from home than ever before, but it also muddled the definition of a streaming movie.
However, Apple’s massive Oscars win will undoubtedly confirm that the company’s pursuit of prestige content is at least paying off, with significant honours to match.