Snippets may entice voters but impact unclear

Reducing a half-hour or hourlong TV series to a short clip might not offer the best representation of a show’s overall quality.

But as the number of people watching TV online in bite-size chunks grows, so too do such clips’ potential to impact Emmy results — even if their impact so far has been negligible at best.

A quick search for TV clips online shows the format is by far more popular for comedies than dramas. Among the most-viewed clips: those from sketch comedy mainstay “Saturday Night Live,” Fox animated hits “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy,” and Comedy Central’s one-two punch of faux news, “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

Erik Flannigan, exec VP of digital media for Comedy Central, says there’s no way to say if the ubiquity of “Daily Show” clips online played a role in the skein having won the variety, music or comedy series Emmy three of the past four years, but it does reflect its popularity and relevance.

“It’s always tough to draw direct correlations between things, but I do think it’s probably fair to speculate that one of the reasons why those shows enjoy their place in the zeitgeist is that the content does travel far and wide on the Internet,” he says.

With so many “Daily Show” clips being shown on so many sites, the series can’t help but reach potential Emmy voters who otherwise might not see the best the show has to offer.

Comedy fiction also travels well online, with Flannigan citing the recent spread of “South Park” clips from popular episodes that skewered the Jonas Brothers and Kanye West. “South Park” has won three animated program Emmys in the past four years.

Clips from NBC’s “30 Rock” also are popular on various sites. The show took home best comedy series last year, though again no one can draw a direct correlation between the two.

The quality of drama series so far seems tougher to convey through short clips, with most networks preferring to post entire episodes when they know Emmy voters are watching.

“My philosophy is, to be a responsible voter, you need to watch a majority of episodes (of a show),” says Richard Licata, exec VP of corporate communications for Showtime and the architect of its Emmy campaigns.

The feevee channel has been an Emmy campaign pioneer, being the first to send out an entire season of a show on DVD and leading the move toward online screeners. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences picked up on the online screener idea last year, and this year again will host a site for Emmy voters to log in and watch.

Last year’s Showtime campaign appears to have paid off, with “Dexter” earning a drama series nomination — though having the show play on CBS during the writers strike probably helped as well.

In drama categories, clips seem most effective when promoting a performance rather than an entire program. Clips can spotlight a specific moment or condense a performance and bring its qualities into focus in a way that an entire episode may not.

“Clips may have an idiosyncratic effect on voting, but I don’t think they drive the voting process,” Licata says.

Regardless of how important such clips may seem in terms of influencing the Emmy race this year, their influence is expected to grow in future races. Showtime, for example, has announced an iPhone app that will let voters log in and watch shows on that device.

Licata says such apps may become more clip-oriented than current online campaigns and are expected to be more popular with young Academy members. Either way, he says making use of the online environment in any way possible to reach voters is here to stay.

“It’s just another avenue for the 14,000 members of the Academy to view our product,” he says.

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