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What Is Winning an Emmy Worth?

The rough cost of a top-tier Emmy campaign — the kind mounted this year for Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” NBC’s “This Is Us,” and HBO’s “Big Little Lies” — is $1 million. But the value of winning an Emmy is harder to quantify. The payoff comes via intangibles, such as seeing one’s brand burnished on an industry-wide stage. But some see little value in the awards besides ego boost.

Speaking at Variety‘s Entertainment and Technology Summit this month, TNT and TBS president Kevin Reilly asserted that while “it’s been long held that really in terms of perception,” an Emmy win is a positive, “from a bottom-line business point of view, no,” it has no value.

But in the Peak TV era, it can’t hurt. With more than 500 scripted shows projected across broadcast, cable, and streaming this year, according to FX Networks research, programmers on every platform struggle to market successfully.

“Winning an Emmy is yet another way that a show can leverage something to make it stand out from the competition,” says Melanie Shreffler, senior insights director at Cassandra, a branding-consultant firm. “These days even a critically acclaimed show has to fight for a survival.”

And with more nominees in the comedy and drama series categories hailing from streaming services whose reach falls short of broadcast or cable, the Emmys provide a rare opportunity for broad exposure. Amazon’s “Transparent” and Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” were not in danger of being canceled before their acting-category Emmy wins, but as they racked up awards, their profiles grew — as did the profiles of the shows’ creators, Jill Soloway and Jenji Kohan.

For producers, Emmy recognition is a coveted personal and professional boon. Once a programmer proves that its shows are on the Emmy radar — as Hulu did with eight Emmy wins, including the best drama series award, for “The Handmaids Tale” Sunday — it has another carrot with which to lure top talent and projects.

“The value is not just in what this signals to the audience about the value of the show,” says Michael Smith, professor of information technology and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. “I think it also creates a great deal of value in what it signals to creators in terms of the value of the platform. I think we’ve seen that with Netflix and Amazon, and we should all be excited to see that with Hulu.”

Likewise, Smith sees risk in striving for Emmys and falling short. With “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Hulu became the first streaming service to win in the drama-series category, beating Netflix to the punch — despite the fact that Netflix is believed to have spent significantly more than any of its linear and digital rivals this season on campaigning. That inability to deliver a win despite such visible effort could have negative impact.

“It was noticeable that they didn’t take home any of the big awards,” Smith says of Netflix. “Does that hurt them with their audience? Probably not. Does that hurt them with creators? Quite possibly. Creators are going to places where they can have the freedom to make great content, but another piece of that is winning awards.”

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