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Spielberg’s deal with Netflix is latest chapter in complicated relationship

Steven Spielberg’s star-crossed relationship with streaming — Netflix Inc. in particular — has been long debated and dissected. A Luddite protecting his turf from new technology or an industry legend trying to reconcile his place in the entertainment firmament?

He left no doubt Monday, when the Academy Award-winning director and Netflix
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announced a partnership with Spielberg’s film and TV studio Amblin Partners. Under the deal, he will make multiple new films a year for the streaming platform.

“This new avenue for our films, alongside the stories we continue to tell with our longtime family at Universal and our other partners, will be incredibly fulfilling for me personally since we get to embark on it together with … the entire Netflix team,” Spielberg said in a statement.

No financial terms were disclosed. Amblin’s hits include “Green Book,” which won Oscar Best Picture, and “1917,” which won three Oscars. Netflix released the Amblin-produced, Aaron Sorkin-directed “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which collected six Oscar nominations. 

The Spielberg-Netflix deal raised eyebrows in Hollywood and Silicon Valley because the famed director has expressed frustration that theater owners, streaming services, and traditional studios need to come together to figure out a way to protect what he likes to call the “motion picture theatrical art form.”

But Spielberg has maintained that his attitude toward Netflix and other streaming services was grossly misconstrued after reports surfaced in 2019 that he planned to propose Oscar rule changes that would block films that are primarily distributed online from competing. “Spielberg: Ban Netflix From Oscars” blared one headline.

“I want people to find their entertainment in any form or fashion that suits them,” Spielberg said in an email to The New York Times in 2019. “Big screen, small screen — what really matters to me is a great story and everyone should have access to great stories.”

Indeed, Spielberg is no stranger to streaming accords: In March 2019, he appeared at Apple Inc.’s
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launch of Apple TV+ to promote his anthology series “Amazing Stories” as part of the streaming service.

Then again, the viewing habits of consumers have changed dramatically in a pandemic world. Millions have flocked to Apple TV+, Netflix, Walt Disney Co.’s
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Disney+, Amazon.com Inc.’s
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Prime Video, and elsewhere to view content safely from home as moviegoers slowly trickle back to theaters. And, increasingly, big-budget movies are debuting simultaneously on both the large and small screen, as evidenced by Disney’s “Cruella” and the forthcoming “Black Widow.”

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