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Day-and-date release, or an Oscar?

That may soon be the choice facing studios as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences considers whether to make movies like “Bubble,” which simultaneously hit theaters, cable TV and DVD, ineligible for Oscar consideration.

Any change likely won’t come until next year, but as release windows continue to shrink and more studios talk about experimenting with day-and-date releases across multiple platforms, it’s sure to become a major issue .

Proponents of a strict “no day-and-date” rule, including AMPAS prexy Sid Ganis, say it’s simply a matter of definition.

“We have been talking about it because the line is blurring and we can’t avoid that fact,” he tells Variety. “But right now we’re the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. If you want to premiere your movie on TV, there’s a very fine academy that handles that.”

Ganis, of course, makes a point of encouraging viewers to see movies in theaters during this year’s Oscar telecast.

Such restrictions are already a factor in Oscar’s doc categories: Pics are now prohibited from playing on TV or the Internet before or anytime within two months after their qualifying theatrical release. Under earlier rules, Michael Moore‘s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a favorite for the doc prize, was disqualified from that category by its PPV airing the night before the 2004 election.

Of course, TV isn’t the only issue. From iPods to PSPs to Google Video, digital technology is giving filmmakers more and more ways to get their movies to the public.

While some execs like Disney CEO Bob Iger have talked about shrinking windows, no major studios yet seem close to simultaneous release.

But in the indie world, it’s already happening. On top of “Bubble” distrib Magnolia, which has several more day-and-date releases in the works, IFC Films has already released several pics this year, including “I Am a Sex Addict” and “Confederate States of America,” simultaneously in a few theaters and via cable operator Comcast’s video-on-demand service.

Oscars, of course, are theoretically about artistic achievement, But as with most things in Hollywood, this debate is really about the industry’s bottom line, as Ganis admitted in a recent letter in the AMPAS quarterly newsletter.

“Exhibitors are having trouble filling theaters as it is,” he wrote. “If it became normal practice for new pictures to be offered in theaters, on pay cable, on DVD and other media simultaneously, what percentage of the current audience would opt for the theatrical experience? Half? Less? We don’t know. We’re watching.”

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