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The Goodbye to Emmy DVD Screeners Has Already Begun (Column)

Pour one out for the Emmy DVD screener. The Television Academy will no longer allow networks and studios to campaign by sending out physical discs as of next year, and thankfully some companies aren’t even waiting that long to eliminate the much-maligned mailers.  

With Emmy For Your Consideration campaign season in high gear, those screener boxes are once again piling up on the counters and coffee tables of Academy members. But, as I learned in talking to network and studio execs at various FYC events in recent weeks, at least the stack isn’t quite as tall this time around. That’s because several outlets have smartly decided to stop mailing screeners immediately, a year ahead of the ban.  

Starz, A+E Networks and CBS TV Studios are among those that have cut out the DVD mailers altogether, while National Geographic isn’t doing full distribution to the entire Academy. Hulu is compromising by instead sending a USB drive, loaded up with content, to Academy members.  

“We’re jumping ahead a year,” Lauren Townsend, Starz’s executive vice president of communications, tells me. “Honestly, it’s a huge expense, and we felt we could take some of that budget and apply it to other opportunities.” 

If you’re like me, most of those screeners remain wrapped in plastic, collecting dust — which means you might not be keeping track of what’s clogging your mailbox this year. Turns out some of the executives who have complained the loudest about the practice continue to send out boxes.  

To be fair, the mailers are still permitted this year, and most outlets fear losing a competitive edge by not doing what everyone else is doing. But Netflix, whose chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, has frequently criticized the practice, could have taken the lead in eliminating its screener box, perhaps triggering others to do the same. Instead, the streaming service — which notoriously sent a gut-busting 20-pound shipment to voters three years ago — is shipping out one last box. Amazon, FX, HBO, Showtime and other top network contenders are also sending out DVDs, as are studios like 20th Century Fox TV. 

I’m sure archaeologists combing through landfills centuries from now will question what “The Umbrella Academy” or “The Romanoffs” were, and confuse peak TV series for actual historical documents. Because there’s a good chance those discs will still be there. Next year’s ban can’t come soon enough.  

According to execs familiar with the campaign process, a typical studio mailer with multiple titles can cost a minimum of $1 million. The TV Academy charges $200 per episode per peer group (they currently number 29) — up to a flat rate of $2,000 per episode. Cost is one factor but the environment is another. Emmy strategists have long wondered how useful the screeners are, and whether most of them end up, unopened, in Los Angeles garbage cans.  

“What an expenditure of energy, resources and just stuff,” one cable exec grumbled to me a few months ago. “No one watches them. I have stuff from 2015 still in a pile somewhere that I haven’t gotten through yet.”  

The catch for networks and studios is that, at least this year, they can’t use the TV Academy’s member list to promote those alternative screening options by mail. As of now, the org’s rule states that mailers must have content attached — either a DVD or a USB.  

That’s a bit ironic given that it’s the TV Academy that decided on the timing to eliminate physical screeners, after years of grumbling from networks, studios and members alike. Very few people seemed to enjoy getting so much clutter sent to their home or business — and anecdotally, many members who tried to opt out of receiving the boxes still wound up getting them. 

The January announcement by the Television Academy eliminating the screeners was met with near-unanimous applause — a rarity for a large, member-based organization, where internal politics don’t often result in consensus. But in this case, nearly everyone agreed that it was time to retire those bulky box sets. (Well, perhaps Burbank-based 3R Printing, which handles the duplication and mailing of the screeners, isn’t thrilled; 3R execs didn’t respond to a request for comment.) 

Once mailers are gone, that may give the streaming services another leg up during awards season — after all, almost everyone knows where and how to stream Netflix, Amazon or Hulu content. But what about the others? 

Heading into next year, awards strategists are waiting to hear the TV Academy’s plans to officially migrate screeners away from DVDs. Will they be required to put their programs on the Academy’s site? Will there be a streaming fee to replace that DVD surcharge? No one believes the Academy will simply allow that source of income to disappear. Score one for the environment — but not necessarily one for network pocketbooks. 

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