Digital distribution offers options for Acad members

During a year in which TV broadcasters are migrating under federal mandate to big-screen, high-definition grandeur, Emmy promoters will once again make their wares available for viewing on voter laptops.

In fact, this seemingly counterintuitive trend is getting more extreme this year, with trophy rainmakers perusing some of the fare on even tinier devices, like iPhones and iPods.

“It’s just another option for those TV Academy members who want to see product anytime and anyplace,” said Showtime marketing topper Richard Licata in March, when the pay cabler announced that it would extend its digital distribution of screeners for shows like “Weeds” and “The Tudors” to include Apple’s mobile devices.

Just a few years ago, Showtime achieved somewhat of a reputation in the entertainment marketing biz — and happily for the channel, among Academy members — for splashy, comprehensive DVD sets that encompassed almost the entire range of the network’s original programming. For example, in 2005, the network sent voters DVDs containing an entire season’s worth of “Huff.”

Soon, virtually every Emmy aspirant was sending out giant, frilly DVD sets to voters and media members, at sizable cost. But with marketing budgets coming under greater scrutiny, a number of networks have begun to explore online alternatives, while cutting back on the ambition of their DVD packages.

The trend promises to only accelerate this year.

In 2008, Showtime reduced the payload of its DVD screener packages, encouraging voters to go online to watch its shows on a password-protected site. The move saved “tens of thousands of dollars,” according to Licata. The pay cabler will offer a similar strategy this year, only extended to mobile devices.

And for its part, the TV Academy, which last year offered marketers a chance to upload their screeners to a unified online screening destination, says it has ironed out all the technical glitches that had muddled up viewing.

Besides cost savings, the Academy bills its offering as a “green” solution for Hollywood, noting that online distribution avoids cutting down trees for paper marketing materials, or filling landfills with petroleum-based discs.

Of course, cost savings and environmental friendliness are all well and good, but winning Emmys is still the name of the game. Is holding back on DVDs a good idea for Academy members who might prefer to see a show on a 46-inch LCD screen in their living room?

“I don’t think the creative is compromised in this way,” Licata adds. “It’s just another avenue for people to explore. They can watch two or three minutes of an episode on an iPhone, and they can at least decide if they like the show.”

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