Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Films won't need to be released in theaters to qualify for an Oscar next year, according to new rules announced Tuesday evening by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Why it matters: Movie studios are required to debut their films in a physical theater in Los Angeles County for at least seven days in order to qualify for the Oscars, but the Academy says it's temporarily changing its rules as most movie theaters remain shuttered across the country due to the coronavirus.

Details: The Academy said in a statement that "when theaters reopen in accordance with federal, state and local specified guidelines and criteria, this rules exemption will no longer apply." That date has yet to be determined.

  • In order to qualify, all films must be made available on the secure Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film’s streaming or VOD release, and they must still meet all other eligibility requirements.
  • Additionally, in order for films to more easily meet theatrical exhibition requirements when theaters reopen, the Academy says it will expand the number of qualifying theaters beyond Los Angeles County to include venues in New York City, the Bay Area, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta. 
  • To be eligible for Oscar consideration, films must have had a previously planned theatrical release.
  • Additionally, the Academy added that this year only, "films that had a previously planned theatrical release but are initially made available on a commercial streaming or VOD service may qualify in the Best Picture."

The big picture: This change could have huge implications for streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which have reluctantly placed their films in theaters solely to qualify for Oscars.

Between the lines: The requirement has caused a lot of tension between the old guard of Hollywood that insists streamers shouldn't be eligible for Oscars, and newer streaming companies that say their small-screen movies are just as good and should be eligible.

  • Hollywood heavyweights like Steven Spielberg have in the past suggested a rules change that would disqualify movies that debut on streaming services or only appear in a short theatrical window.
  • The Academy, under antitrust pressure from regulators, ultimately decided to officially allow streaming companies to qualify for Oscars last year, but only under the parameters that they showed their films in theaters first.

What to watch: If a streamer wins a big Oscar next year having only debuted their films digitally due to the coronavirus, it may be hard for the Academy to argue that it's necessary to go back to the old rules moving forward — giving streamers a more permanent place in Hollywood.

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Editor’s note: This post has been clarified to add further eligibility requirements.

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