Amazon’s Branding Problem, New Networks Aim for Noms, and More Last-Minute Emmy Notes (Column)

The long Emmy campaign takes a bit of a breather next week, after nomination voting ends on Monday at 10 p.m. We won’t know until July 16 how much all the FYC events, stunts, mailers and coverage paid off, but it’s already been a raucous campaign season — including bigger-than-ever installations from the likes of Netflix and Amazon; one final hurrah for the soon-to-be outlawed DVD screeners; last minute contenders that slid in right under the eligibility window; and an 11th hour mini-scandal involving allegations of “block voting” schemes.

As nominations and phase two of the Emmy campaign gets underway next month, we’re also waiting to see whether this year’s Primetime Emmy telecast on Fox goes host-free; whether “Veep” and “Game of Thrones” are still this year’s frontrunners; and which names Ken Jeong and D’Arcy Carden actually announce on nomination morning.

Here are a few more tidbits from this reporter’s notebook on this year’s race:

CREDIT: Amazon

Amazon is once again “Amazon”: In recent years, Amazon’s streaming TV service has referred to itself on Emmy ballots and via marketing as “Prime Video,” or even just “Prime.” Yet everyone in Hollywood still refers to it as “Amazon.”

That’s why Amazon’s streamer has once again settled on using “Amazon Prime Video” as its full name, and how it will be identified for this year’s Emmys.

It’s one of the most powerful brands in the world, but for the folks behind Amazon’s entertainment offerings, it’s been the source of ongoing brand confusion. “Amazon” is a online retailer founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, while “Amazon Prime” is the subscription service that offers two-day free shipping. “Amazon Studios” produces original TV shows and films, while “Amazon Prime Video” is the specific portion of Amazon Prime devoted to streaming TV shows and films — both from Amazon Studios and other sources. (And those shows themselves are deemed “Amazon Originals.” Confused yet?)

“We are a sub-sub brand,” said Amazon Studios marketing head Mike Benson. “When you think about Amazon as our master brand; Prime as the sub-brand and Prime Video is the sub-brand of Prime, it gets a little more complicated for customers.

“So we’ve shifted our focus into saying the products that we make from an original content perspective is an Amazon Original, and that could be anything from a series to a movie to a special,” he added. “And the place you can watch those Amazon Originals is on Prime Video. So Prime Video is the platform.”

That brand confusion isn’t an issue with Netflix and Hulu, which are purely in the streaming video business. (Apple, which is in multiple businesses like Amazon, hopes to differentiate its upcoming streamer by calling it “Apple TV Plus” — but it will likely run into similar branding issues.)

“It’s a little more complicated than other companies have,” Benson said. “But I think that we have finally gotten to a place where people should be able to understand how these two things work together. Knowing that the industry, they all call us ‘Amazon.’ When someone gets on stage and accepts an award they thank ‘Amazon.’ We know they’re connected together. A lot of the materials in the marketing that you will have seen, we want to make sure we’re making that connection between Amazon and Prime Video.”

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 24: (L-R) Stacey Harkey, Kenan Thompson, Matt Meese and Mallory Everton speak onstage during Studio C Live from NYC featuring Kenan Thompson at Hammerstein Ballroom on August 24, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for BYUB)
CREDIT: Getty Images for BYUB

BYUtv and Facebook Watch among newbies trying to break in: The old adage “it’s an honor just to be nominated” can be especially true for fledgling networks and outlets looking to gain some credibility in Hollywood. But as another cliché goes, “you’ve got to be in it to win it,” which is why several underdog programmers have entered the Emmy FYC campaigns this year.

“We felt this was a good time for us to give a coming out or a profile of our original programming to the creative community and hopefully get some great recognition,” said Mina Lefevre, Facebook Watch’s head of development and programming. The streamer is hoping to make some waves with “Sorry For Your Loss,” its drama starring Elizabeth Olsen.

The goal of the Emmy campaign is to win a few awards, of course, but Lefevre said she’s also looking to plant a flag in the industry and build awareness of what the burgeoning service is up to.

“We’re so new relative to the rest of the streamers out there,” she said. “It’s just letting them know that we have all these great originals on the platform… I am very aware that the Academy voters have a ton of stuff to watch. My hope is they take a look at ‘Sorry for Your Loss.’ Having that recognition and awareness in the community would be huge for us and the show.”

BYU Broadcasting managing director Michael Dunn has a similar strategy for spreading word about his small cable network, BYUtv. The channel, available in 65 million cable and satellite homes, is owned by Brigham Young University but has aimed to attract a more mainstream audience in recent years with original series like the sketch comedy series “Studio C.”

“I have this very audacious view that we are doing some television that is on par with anything being done out there, particularly in our lane, which is family television,” Dunn said. “To me, the Emmys have always been the gold standard. So if we want to continue to challenge our staff every day to do world class television and nothing less than that, then we ought to be throwing our hat in the ring with the Emmys.”

BYUtv is keeping it strategic, however, entering in just two fields: In the outstanding guest actor in a comedy race, it has “SNL” star Kenan Thompson (above), who hosted an episode of “Studio C.” And in outstanding variety special (pre-recorded), it has the “Christmas Under the Stars” holiday special featuring the pop group Train.

“I think a lot of people here feel a sense of pride just to try and go after a nomination,” Dunn said. “To be in the hunt is worth the process of getting through all the stuff out there. We realize we have a lot to overcome in terms of awareness and exposure. People don’t know us but if there’s a way for us to say we’re here, then entering the Emmys is a way of doing that.”

CREDIT: Comedy Central

Screeners as one final marketing stunt: The Television Academy has banned the mailing of DVD screeners as of next year, and some networks have already stopped sending out the bulky mailers. That includes Comedy Central, which halted the practice a few years ago and reallocated those funds elsewhere.

But the cable network found another way to capitalize on the DVD clutter facing Television Academy members, as part of a stunt for its comedy “Corporate.” The network set up recycling centers around Los Angeles earlier this month for voters to dump their DVDs, which were then donated to Hollywood Cares, an organization that sends entertainment libraries to the troops.

“It came out of, let’s do something disruptive that aligns nicely with ‘Corporate,'” said Shawn Silverman, Comedy Central’s senior vice president of brand marketing. “We’ve had some people drop them off still in their original boxes and packaging, Even unopened. Clearly there was some demand for this. It struck a chord. And being able to do something productive with them was a great thing.”

Funny or Die also found a way to recycle the boxes of screeners around their office: They used the DVDs to create their own do-it-yourself FYC ad campaign:

CREDIT: Funny or Die
CREDIT: Funny or Die
CREDIT: Funny or Die
CREDIT: Funny or Die

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