Amazon and Netflix had historic Oscar wins -- and it shows the huge difference in their movie strategy

Jeff bezos oscarsGetty/Jerod HarrisJeff Bezos at the Amazon Studios Oscar After-Party

Netflix and Amazon both scored Oscar wins on Sunday, marking the first time any streaming service has triumphed at the Academy Awards.

But the awards that each won underscore the huge difference in how Netflix and Amazon are tackling the movie market, and how the industry has responded.

Amazon was the big winner on Sunday, with its gritty indie “Manchester by the Sea” winning best original screenplay and best actor (Casey Affleck), and Iran’s “The Salesman” winning best foreign language film.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was in the audience, and even got a good-natured joke about Amazon’s shipping thrown his way by host Jimmy Kimmel.

Netflix won the documentary short-subject category with “The White Helmets,” which chronicles neutral rescue workers in Syria, who have saved 80,000 lives from attacks.

Amazon isn’t bucking tradition

Amazon’s wins in high-profile categories, and its nomination for best picture, underscores the difference between its movie strategy and that of Netflix, its main rival. Though Amazon is a streaming service, all of its films get theatrical releases, because Amazon is willing to keep the movies off its online platform for the traditional length of time.

Netflix, conversely, has angered movie theatres by insisting that its movies be available to stream on Netflix the day they are released in theatres. Theatre execs have railed against this practice, and have largely refused to show Netflix movies. Netflix has hit back. In October, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said he thought the state of film was a “real tragedy” and that movie theatres were “strangling the movie business.”

Still, Netflix’s poor relationship with movie theatres puts the company in a tough position, since many filmmakers prize having a traditional theatrical release for their films, even if it’s not a wide one.

Amazon has avoided this issue altogether by sticking to the established release timing. And the company has been rewarded. “Manchester by the Sea” grossed almost $US40 million at the US box office, making it a “commercial success” in its category, according to Variety. And now it has won two prestigious Oscars, as well as a best picture nod.

Last year, Netflix pushed hard during awards season for “Beasts of No Nation,” but was ultimately snubbed by the Academy.

Documentary prowess

In the documentary categories, however, Netflix has shined at the Oscars.

Netflix’s first Oscar nomination went to “The Square” in 2014 for best documentary feature. In that category, Netflix got another nom for “Virunga” in 2015, before grabbing two last year for “What Happened, Miss Simone? and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.” This year, “13th,” Netflix’s doc that explores racial inequality in the United States and the prison system, was nominated, though it ultimately didn’t win. (That honour went to ESPN for “O.J.: Made in America”.)

Netflix’s one Oscar win this year was for “The White Helmets,” in best short-subject doc.

Netflix has been embraced by the Academy in the documentary categories, where it’s not fighting a big battle against entrenched traditions of distribution, and theatre owners. As Netflix’s content production continues to ramp up, and it releases more Oscar hopefuls, we’ll see how much of an effect that has on the industry’s most prestigious awards show.

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