The fate of the Primetime Emmy Awards — and perhaps the entire television academy — might be decided tonight.
Although calmer heads may eventually prevail, net execs were steadfast in their resolve Tuesday to ice out the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences if it moves the Emmy kudocast to HBO.
ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are expected to send a revised proposal to the Academy today in an 11th hour bid to keep the Emmys on broadcast TV. That number is expected to be no higher than $4.5 million or $5 million a year — far below HBO’s $10 million bid.
But even a token increase from the four nets’ original $3.3 million bid might be enough for ATAS to decide to stay put. The academy’s 27-member board of governors, led by chairman/CEO Bryce Zabel, will vote on a new Emmy broadcast rights contract tonight.
Given its nonprofit status, a $10 million Emmy license fee could afford the TV academy the opportunity to expand its realm beyond its chief job of handing out trophies.
Indeed, even angry broadcast net execs admit they couldn’t blame the Academy for being enticed by HBO’s rich offer.
Yet those same net execs say they want no part of the academy if the show moves to HBO. A CBS spokesman said the Eye would drop all ties to ATAS and boycott the Emmys — a stance other webheads echoed.
That threat may convince some Academy governors to vote on keeping the Emmys with the Big 4. It may also anger others enough to vote on the HBO contract.
“These four monolithic companies, which operate federally protected distribution systems, are threatening to boycott a nonprofit organization they feel should be there to serve their profit line,” expressed one baffled industry exec.
Pointing to the nets’ $3.3 million offer, the exec accused the broadcasters of treating the TV academy shabbily. That proposal repped a paltry increase from the $3 million the webs most recently paid over the past four years.
Broadcast network insiders, meanwhile, said they opted not to increase their bid after ATAS refused to budge from its $10 million asking price.
“The Academy never really negotiated,” one source said. “We saw no reason to give them more than a 10% bump.”
Execs also questioned why HBO would shell out so much money for the show, given its reputation as “free advertising” for the pay cabler. But other sources said HBO — which would descramble its signal for the event — could use it to showcase more of its programming, perhaps before and after the Emmys.
Critics of the HBO deal also argue the Emmys would only be seen in 85% of TV homes — to which one source responded, “This is the Emmy Awards. It’s not a national treasure. If the NFL can be on ESPN, then the Emmys can be on HBO.”
Reps for the four nets will iron out a new proposal today and may even present it in person to the Academy, one source said. Still, emotions are raw at the broadcast webs, where execs say there’s no way they could match HBO’s offer — which, including production and marketing costs, could actually translate to $16 million or $17 million a year.
“Dialogue will continue, but all four networks are still quite pissed off,” the source said.
Zabel hoped to diffuse the tension on Tuesday, referring to the broadcast nets as the academy’s “friends and colleagues.”
“Where the actual telecast is found on the remote is less important than the mission statement of our organization — to honor and encourage excellence,” he said. “The American television networks are still incredibly vital businesses and we passionately believe in them.”