Emmys Recognize Digital Age as Netflix Crashes the Party

Hidebound in tradition, TV academy makes small pivot toward TV's complicated present

Not so many years ago, someone proposed distributing information exclusively online at a board meeting of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences elected governors. Several members objected, saying it was wrong to assume everyone who might want to see the material had computer access.

My, how our little academy has grown up.

Netflix’s strong showing in this year’s Emmy nominations — including a best-drama series bid for “House of Cards,” the first digital-originated program to enter that prestigious company — won’t change the TV industry. But it does underscore, as Academy Chairman Bruce Rosenblum noted, how our understanding of “television” is evolving.

As the above anecdote illustrates, this isn’t just any organization embracing the digital universe. It’s one that has traditionally been hidebound and slow to embrace change, resistant to new blood and – much like its brethren at the movie academy – structurally designed to place hurdles between new members and higher tiers of its hierarchy.

Of course, the addition of a new player like Netflix, which is pursuing a model similar to premium cable, only exacerbates the already-existing rift between the broadcast networks, which televise the Emmycast, and the actual nominations. With “House of Cards” elbowing “Boardwalk Empire” out of the best-drama roster, we again have a situation where only one broadcast hour made the cut, and that was PBS’ period upstart “Downton Abbey.” Once again, the network televising the show, CBS, is essentially throwing a party to which it’s barely invited (although as more than one pundit has suggested, this might be “The Big Bang Theory’s” year on the comedy front).

Admittedly, we shouldn’t make too much of what’s essentially a charge being led by a single series (despite a few bones toward “Arrested Development,” another Netflix property). And the real proof of how viable high-quality digital series are will be whether Netflix and its other brethren can replicate the splash that “House of Cards” was consciously designed to deliver — or even have the appetite to keep throwing $100 million at these sort of enterprises.

Then again, a lot of the same folks who attend those academy board meetings grew up within the entertainment industry accustomed to having the trades land on their desks every morning. For the first time this year, they won’t be greeted by a hard copy of Variety tomorrow listing the nominations, either.

As anyone working in media has learned (often the hard way), things change. And while this year’s nominations are more evolutionary than revolutionary, they illustrate even an organization that has often seemed rooted in an old analog model is capable of changing along with them.

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  1. Claude Ashe says:

    Personally, I can’t wait until we evolve beyond this nasty transition phase so that people can see that nothing is particularly different other than the delivery method of the images and sound. As it stands now, if you live in an area with poor bandwidth, (and that is a BIG area, folks) you cannot access these new “revolutionary” (yeah, right) shows. To me, that’s bully marketing.

    Give me the capacity to sit comfortably on my sofa and see a 36+ inch, HD screen (not some laptop or mobile phone, thank you — I’m old — my eyes don’t work well) and stop slicing up the program content into “broadcast,” “cable,” and “internet” and making it exclusive. Make it ALL available through the Internet and charge us a fair rate.

    Sadly, the reality of that is probably decades away. In all this breathless hoopla about “cutting the cable” only rare articles bother to discuss the problems/logistics/politics of readying the infrastructure in this country to accommodate all this ‘net streaming.

    As usual, the media is all about the hype.

  2. The Kingslayer says:

    Where the hell is Corey Stoll’s Best Supporting Actor nomination?

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