2021 Emmy Awards Data Analysis: The Pendulum Swings Back to Streaming

Emmys Data
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

Last year’s Emmys saw a stunning gain in primetime award wins for cable TV, propelled by “Schitt’s Creek” and overtaking wins by streaming platforms. That now looks to have been cable’s last stand.

The 2021 awards saw streaming services roar back, with Netflix winning 10 awards across primetime categories for acting, directing, programs and writing and Apple TV+ taking four. Cable TV in its entirety mustered one lone primetime award, for VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” with “Saturday Night Live” providing broadcast TV’s sole winner.

If further evidence was needed of the migration from traditional formats to streaming that most media companies are embarking on, it is the fact that this represents cable TV’s worst performance at the Emmys in modern times.

Factoring in the same four categories from the Creative Arts Emmys (for genres like reality, documentary, nonfiction and animation), and the growing power of streaming platforms really comes into play. Streamers managed to achieve almost twice as many wins in these four key categories than traditional TV services combined.

As an aside, 2019 was the last year that ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC each managed to win an Emmy across the primetime and Creative Arts categories for acting, directing, programs and writing.

There have only been two platforms that consistently won Emmys every year in the last five: Netflix and WarnerMedia’s HBO. These are also the two greatest cumulative winners, as FX’s recent drought has seen parent Disney slip behind Netflix into third place for primetime wins.

It’s also worth noting that two previously big-hitting streaming services at the Emmys — Amazon's Prime Video and Disney’s Hulu — are also enduring somewhat of an awards drought, with this now the second straight year neither has managed to pick up a major win. This may change for Amazon in 2022 with the return of critics’ darling “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” but speaks to the cutthroat competition currently being waged on screens.

Once all acting, directing, program and writing awards are tallied up, the same pattern holds true for the top two parent services (how Discovery must be eagerly anticipating 2022’s formation of Warner Bros. Discovery so its name can be atop the list). Amazon slips to sixth, overtaken by NBCUniversal — largely powered by “Saturday Night Live” — and ViacomCBS.

While it’s possible that we could see another “Schitt’s Creek” moment in the future, when a beloved cable show revels in a slew of awards, it’s unlikely given the shift in resources media companies are undergoing, pushing shows that once would have been strong cable performers to their streaming alternatives.

Let’s not forget, too, the role streaming played in last year’s success: Had Netflix not had the prior seasons of “Schitt’s Creek” and they were instead on ViacomCBS’ CBS All Access, the show would not have been able to grow in buzz and viewership between seasons.

If there’s one takeaway from the distribution of awards wins from the 2021 Emmys, it is that, aberrations aside, we are now firmly in the grasp of the new world order of streaming, one that looks set to be here going forward.