ATAS wins in broadband Emmy dispute

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UPDATED 4:35 p.m. PT March 5

The Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has been handed another victory in its dispute with its New York-based counterpart over the creation of Emmy Awards for digital content.

The Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, has upheld a December decision by the American Arbitration Assn. in the matter, essentially ruling that each organization can hand out broadband Emmys in only the genres for which it already oversees awards. The National Academy for Arts & Sciences had appealed the arbitration ruling in December.

"We are gratified that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is unanimously victorious in a very fair and accurate arbitration and that we can continue our vision to preserve the Emmy brand," ATAS said.

The court's 19-page opinion was filed Monday by Judge Richard Lowe III.

"The New York Supreme Court has dealt NATAS a devastating blow in its effort to overturn last December's ruling from an arbitration panel vindicating ATAS' ongoing jurisdiction over all categories of Primetime Emmys, including for shows available over broadband and other new media," ATAS attorney George Hedges said. "NATAS must now immediately comply with the arbitration panel's decision or face potential contempt proceedings. ATAS will now proceed to obtain an order from the panel awarding it the attorneys fees it has been forced to expend as a result of NATAS' actions."

NATAS president and CEO Peter Price said he didn't know whether his organization would appeal the ruling as he hadn't discussed it with NATAS' attorneys, but he noted that the organization will "continue to abide by" the arbitration panel's ruling. He also expressed hope that the two academies can put their differences behind them on this and other issues of contention, including the creation of a Spanish-language Emmy ceremony, details of which are being hammered out by both groups.

"I feel that the objective of all this haggling between the East and West should be to get on with our mutual objective of recognizing excellence in television," he said. "We shouldn't do it separately. We're wasting time and money and should be going about it collegially rather than hassling over technicalities with the awards process."

The issue of broadband Emmys has been a contentious one for the two academies for some time. The rivals had been working together for months on separate recognition for new-media content before talks between the academies broke off in early 2007 after ATAS brass got word that NATAS reportedly was developing new awards on its own. (When the academies split in 1977, they agreed not to create any new awards without mutual approval.)

The arbitration panel got involved last year and in December barred NATAS from "awarding any new Emmys which infringe on the genres reserved to ATAS: drama, comedy, variety shows, music, 'longform,' reality show, children's animation, made-for-television movies and nonfiction filmmaking." The arbitrators ruled that NATAS could hand out Emmys honoring broadband sports and news programs, among others.

But NATAS took issue with the ruling, saying the word "genres" caused confusion and that it contradicted the dayparts outlined in the 1977 agreement, which allows NATAS to award programming in daytime (2 a.m.-6 p.m.), including soaps and daytime game shows as well as national news and sports programs, while ATAS can hand out awards in the remaining hours of the day, including primetime programming such as comedies and dramas. NATAS then filed a petition to "vacate an award" of the arbitration panel.

After the December ruling, ATAS asked NATAS to cancel January's Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards. NATAS did hold the ceremony but handed out glass statues in the disputed categories instead of actual Emmys. Price said those winners will keep their glass statues. As for next year, Price said it will likely be the same situation but that it's still too early to say definitively what the plans are.

Still at issue are the proposed Spanish-language Emmys. The arbitrators in December ruled that both sides had to work together to resolve the issue.

While ATAS and NATAS have hammered out most of the details, there is one area where the two don't see eye to eye: NATAS wants telenovelas to be eligible for consideration since they are such a big part of the Spanish-language networks' schedules, but ATAS argues that most of those are produced outside of the U.S. and fall under the jurisdiction of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Debra Kaufman contributed to this report.
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