Wrangling Emmy Award categories, promoting diversity and tackling TV’s measurement conundrum are just a few of the pressing issues that have been on Bruce Rosenblum’s agenda since he started his two-year term as chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in January. On the cusp of Emmy season, Rosenblum, prexy of Warner Bros. TV Group, spoke with Variety awards editor Jon Weisman about his priorities for the TV Acad.
Jon Weisman: Between the shows that are most popular and the shows that get the most Emmy recognition, there’s sort of a divide. Why does such a small fraction of the country have an interest in what the Academy decides are the best shows on TV?
Bruce Rosenblum: If you go back, the original intent of the Academy was to recognize creative excellence within the peer group, and to this day, the Emmys still do that. We’re not the People’s Choice Awards. There are People’s Choice Awards, there are Teen Choice Awards, there are Kids’ Choice Awards. That’s not what we are. We’re not a popularity contest. We’re a recognition of excellence, and our sense is that the Academy implements that really effectively.
JW: How satisfying are the Emmys to the TV industry itself?
BR: My sense is that the industry understands what the intent is behind the awarding of Emmys. The challenge comes from the different kinds of shows within the same category, when you have basic cable, pay cable and free broadcast shows all competing, which many times are apples and oranges. Pay cable and basic cable traditionally don’t do 22 episodes per season, and the budgets vary from pay to basic to broadcast. So you’re not always comparing apples to apples.
Having said that, as we look toward 2012, there is a tremendous amount of great content, both dramatic and comedic, that will be recognized this year. The membership will have a very difficult time, in my opinion, sifting through the great amount of terrific, quality content to narrow the list down to a handful of Emmy nominees.
JW: Is there any desire to make it so that you are comparing more apples to apples and oranges to oranges, or is there no way to do that?
BR: It becomes very complicated, and it would lengthen the time of the show itself. So there’s no consideration of changing the dynamics of the drama and comedy categories at this point.
JW: And not expanding the number of series nominees per category, for example?
BR: There’s no consideration of that.
JW: How big a consideration is the TV broadcast itself? How much does the Academy’s mindset relate to trying to make the broadcast work better, trying to drum up ratings for the broadcast? Is it just, “We decide what we want to decide, and the broadcast is what the broadcast is?”
BR: No, this is a collaborative effort between the Academy, the broadcast networks and the producer of the show. Each year, the respective network and the producer bring a different tone, a different style, a different mindset to the production. But the overall goal, again, is a celebration of the recognition of great quality content and great quality work. We’re not looking to change that element of the show.
JW: I’m actually fascinated when a show repeats and establishes itself as a perennial, the way “Mad Men” has, the way “Frasier” did years ago. Some people have frustration with that, that it’s seemingly the same show every year. Is there a problem with the Emmys that there isn’t enough change?
BR: Well, what distinguishes the Emmys from the Academy Awards is that every year there are brand-new motion pictures. The television business is such that successful shows run for years and years and years. And if those successful shows have the creative quality that justifies recognition with an Emmy, that’s a good thing. People like to watch shows that provide consistent creative quality. I don’t think we have a structural challenge.
JW: A new-series category would guarantee there was fresh blood every year. Is that something that could happen?
BR: It’s something that could happen. It’s something I understand that has been considered in the past and may be considered again in the future.
JW: Switching the focus to the Academy itself: What’s your top priority at this point?
BR: Our top priority is creating as much relevance for our members as we can, creating a wealth of activities that provide value for our members. We’re off to a really good start. We’ve had some strong diversity events. I think we as an Academy can do better from a diversity standpoint, creating more awareness of the need to expand not only the membership on the Board (of Governors) but the membership within the Academy itself.
We’re also looking to create more awareness within the professional community of what the Academy does, and I think we’ve gotten off to a good start there with some of the appointees we made to our executive committee, expanding the presence of new media on the board. We have Jason Kilar now from Hulu, and Gail Berman from BermanBraun, which does more traditional and non-traditional forms of TV content.
The overarching priority is more relevance to our members.
JW: And if you achieve that, what can you do with that?
BR: We’re hopeful that the Academy can be a place where issues that impact all of the peer groups are able to be discussed, and maybe we can provide some leverage on some of those issues.
If you step back, you recognize that the Academy is the one place in our business where all of the peer groups are sitting around the table and at the same side of the table. This is not an adversarial negotiation. This is a situation where you have producers and writers and actors sitting along the same side, and makeup and camera and editors …
We’re all fighting for the same thing, which is the longevity of the TV industry and the viability of the TV industry. The Academy can play an important role, we believe, in discussions around issues that impact our business — piracy being one of them, for example.
JW: Has much progress has been made on the diversity front?
BR: We’ve made a strong push. Even in the first five months, we’ve had several activities for members.
The one that stands out for me is several weeks ago, we held an event for all of the Spanish-speaking networks. We had all of the chieftains of those networks up on a panel talking about the strength of Spanish-speaking networks, the expansion of Spanish-speaking networks. It was a packed room that was enthusiastic, and while it was informative, it was also an opportunity to attract new members and really push an agenda of being very inclusive and very expansive.
JW: Will there be any changes with the rules of the Academy to encourage diversity?
BR: There’s a clear desire to not only have the membership more diverse, but the Board of Governors more diverse as well. Our sense is that you don’t have to change the rules. Our sense is much more about creating awareness of the organization, creating outreach and encouraging more diversity within the peer groups themselves.
This is not a quick-solution issue. This is one each of the studios and each of the networks and many of the peer groups have been working on for a long time. There are diversity initiatives that we’re aware of within the DGA,
within the Writers Guild, certainly at the studios and the networks, and we’re hopeful we can work with many of the peer groups to expand their diversity outreach within their membership. And as more people of color and diverse backgrounds join the respective peer groups, our job then will be to encourage them to join the Academy.
JW: What would you say the challenges have been that have been both expected and unexpected in your position?
BR: The biggest challenge was getting as many people as we can within the organization to push in the same strategic direction. And even in the short amount of time, we’ve accomplished that. We’re looking to really focus on the next couple of years on strategically where the Television Academy can grow, what the Television Academy’s role is.
For example: What is the role of Hulu and Netflix and Amazon and their original content strategy vis-a-vis the Television Academy? How does that play within the Academy? Five years ago, you never would have had a discussion about “House of Cards.” Today, the conversation is, OK, Netflix and Hulu will be producing original content. Even though it’s not on primetime network television, how do we embrace that content as part of the Television Academy, and how do we embrace those people who work around that content as members of the Television Academy?
JW: You’re not going to change the name, but is there a day that the name “Television Academy” is going to seem a little archaic?
BR: I don’t think so. I think what’s changing is what people mean when they use the word “television.” “Television” no longer means that box that sits in your living room. We believe “television” now refers much more to the content itself. So whether that content is sitting on ABC, NBC, CBS, TNT, TBS, HBO, Showtime or Hulu or Netflix, it’s still television. And whether you’re watching it on a 50-inch flatscreen or a tablet or a mobile device, it’s still television.
JW: There have been several additions to the Board of Governors. What do you expect the impact to be?
BR: The energy and the enthusiasm and the passion for what our business is is palpable in that room. We didn’t walk into a room with people who have all been there for 20 or 30 years. There’s a lot of new faces, there’s a lot of energetic faces, and the governors from my impression really have an appetite to do exciting things with the Academy.
JW: Your take on the year in ratings: There are pockets of great success, but there’s decline in so many places, and people are even questioning the validity of the Nielsen system. What’s your take on what this year’s ratings numbers mean for TV?
BR: You have to look at two things. One, our research shows that more people are watching more television than they ever have. In fact, I just did a presentation: The average person is watching more 10 hours more of television today per month than they did five years ago.
Our challenge is measurement, is making sure that all of that off-television-screen viewing that we talked about, all the non-linear viewing, all the on-demand, all the subscription on-demand, all the viewing on tablets and mobile devices is being measured. We know that there’s more viewing taking place than what’s being measured, and while Nielsen is a wonderful company and they’re working hard to find solutions to these challenges, whether it’s Nielsen or other companies that step in, it’s incumbent upon all of us in the industry to encourage these measurement companies to find efficient ways to measure all of the viewing that’s taking place.
The broadcast network model remains healthy, and as (the networks) build toward retransmission consent and that second revenue stream, that’s good news for all of us.
JW: Do you see anything in the economics of the business right now — and this becomes an Emmy question — that will affect the quality of the product being delivered?
BR: The trends are positive. What all of us are seeing in our industry is more revenue coming in from the international marketplace. … The revenue coming in on first-year shows is higher today than it was five years ago. We’re anticipating a healthy advertising marketplace in the next handful of weeks. So the signs both domestically and internationally are encouraging.