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Cannes lets Netflix in but requires theater run from now on

After an outcry by theater owners, Netflix can compete at the Cannes Film Festival, but future films must screen, not just stream, to be eligible.

Two Netflix films, including "Okja" by "Snowpiercer" director Bong Joon-Ho, will be allowed to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival next week.

Kimberly French/Netflix

To screen or to stream?

Two Netflix original films will be allowed to compete next week at the Cannes Film Festival in France even though they aren't expected to be released widely in French theaters, the festival's board said Wednesday.

But after complaints from a cinema group, the festival amended its rules for future years, requiring that films "will have to commit ... to being distributed in French movie theaters," the board said.

It's the latest example of how Netflix's habit of upending film and TV norms is often perceived as a direct threat by traditional players. In this case, French theater owners decried the Cannes festival for allowing Netflix to get a shot at the country's most prestigious film awards without a commitment to screen the films in French cinemas.

Theater owners have protested Netflix before. In 2015, the biggest theater operators in the US boycotted Netflix's film "Beasts of No Nation" because the streaming service planned to release it online the same day it premiered in cinemas. Since then, Netflix adopted a strategy of screening films in only a few theaters, mainly because the Oscars require a theatrical release for eligibility.

France's exhibitors association, which is reportedly represented on Cannes' board, argued for blocking two Netflix films set to compete next week in Cannes: "Okja," the latest from "Snowpiercer" director Bong Joon-ho, and Noah Baumbach's "The Meyerowitz Stories." Ultimately, the Cannes board decided on the compromise that would allow the two films in, while also establishing stricter standards in the future.

"This new measure will apply from the 2018 edition of the Festival International du Film de Cannes onwards," the festival said.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings described the French theater group's move as "the establishment closing ranks against" Netflix, in a post on Facebook.

Originally published at 6:50 a.m. PT
Update, 12:40 p.m. PT: With comment from Netflix CEO and context.