A digital divide for TV groups

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The two TV academies are at it again.

The latest issue to cause a rift between the New York-based National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is related to discussions over the creation of new Emmy Awards honoring digital content.

The East Coast/West Coast rivals have been working together for months on separate recognition for new-media content, but sources said talks between the two sides recently broke off after ATAS brass got word that NATAS was reportedly developing new awards on its own. When the academies split in 1977, they agreed not to create any new awards without mutual approval.

In addition, NATAS is said to have made ATAS suspicious by signing MySpace.com as a sponsor for the broadband Emmys. Sources said ATAS was concerned that by handing out a large number of awards to amateurs making user-generated videos, the Emmy brand would get diluted.

As a result, sources said, ATAS last week sought to have the matter mediated by the American Arbitration Assn. Sources added that the L.A.-based academy also intends to file suit today in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeking injunctive relief to prevent NATAS from launching any new awards related to digital content.

Reps for ATAS declined to elaborate but did issue a statement Wednesday.

"The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has attempted to resolve the complex issues associated with the introduction of New Media Emmy Awards with the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for some time," an ATAS spokesman said. "Unfortunately, our talks have not resolved the differences we have in this vitally important area. It is our hope that this matter will be resolved amicably."

NATAS president and CEO Peter Price said he was surprised and perplexed by ATAS' actions.

"We decided to do something together mutually -- there is no daypart (for digital media). ... We formed a committee with three (reps from each group)," he said. "Recommendations were on their way to ATAS for approval, but (then we were told) we were enjoined from doing anything. Why? I don't know."

Price also noted the importance of having an awards show that honors digital media content in an ever-changing industry.

"We need to recognize these creators," he said. "They deserve recognition, and we've got to find a way to do it."

ATAS and NATAS split after the TV academy's New York and Los Angeles chapters decided they wouldn't be able to reconcile their differences. Since splitting in 1977, ATAS has had oversight of the Primetime Emmy Awards, while NATAS oversees the Emmy Awards in such areas as news, sports, daytime, public service and technology.

In 2001, there was talk of a possible reunification after longtime NATAS head John Cannon died. But the next year, the two academies were bickering over the introduction of a Latin Emmy Awards ceremony that would honor U.S. Spanish-language programming including entertainment, news and sports broadcasts. NATAS wanted to establish the show and accused ATAS of dragging its heels in terms of helping to launch the awards; ATAS was concerned about oversaturating the Emmy Awards shows and offending the Hispanic community as well as how the show would be administered.

NATAS ultimately lost that battle, but sources said talk of an Emmy show honoring U.S. Spanish-language programming had recently been brought back to the table.
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