Normally, the Best Short Film awards at the Oscars are a great opportunity to go the kitchen to grab a beer. After all, you probably haven't seen these films and don't have much invested in who's winning or losing (unless you're the gambling type). That changed this year when all of the animated short film and live action short film nominees made their way online, letting anyone watch them for free. But then the animated nominees vanished from YouTube this past week. What happened?

It turns out that Carter Pilcher, the CEO of distributor Shorts International sent a letter to the nominees, personally requesting that they take down their work. His reasoning makes plenty of sense: since they were put online, attendance at special showings of the nominated shorts at theaters have plummeted and Pilcher says that that films being readily available for free will do "significant, if not irreparable damage" to the future of short film distribution. He goes on to say that the shorts being readily available online devalues them as a theatrical experience:

"Unlike Webbies or Ani’s, the Academy Award is designed to award excellence in the making of motion pictures that receive a cinematic release, not an online release. This release of the films on the Internet threatens to destroy 8 years of audience growth and the notion that these film gems are indeed movies — no feature length film would consider a free online release as a marketing tool!"

Pilcher's urging worked: the nominees all willingly removed the films after the February 19th cut-off date for Oscar voting.

We see exactly where Pilcher is coming from. The filmmakers behind short films rarely make a profit on their work as it is and things will look even more bleak for them in the future if people start viewing their work as a YouTube clip instead of a full-fledged film. At the same time, more people probably saw these shorts than any other group of Oscar nominated short films in history.

So that brings us to the big question: is wide exposure more important than financial success? What do you think?