Emmy ratings crucial for 2010 contract negotiations

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When the Dallas Cowboys play the Green Bay Packers Sunday night on NBC, the big loser may be ... the Primetime Emmy Awards.

That would make the evening's ratings a rerun of last year, when a game between the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers was the top-rated show, sacking Fox's Emmy telecast, which had its smallest audience in 17 years.

How many viewers the Primetime Emmys attract this Sunday will be crucial for the next contract negotiations in the summer of 2010. This, in turn, will affect the economics of the awards show, whose rights currently go for $7.5 million a year.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which licenses the Emmys to broadcasters, says it is "premature to comment" on those issues. "The academy has enjoyed a successful, long-term collaborative relationship with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox," ATAS said in a statement, "and we fully anticipate that our mutually beneficial association will continue."

But ATAS COO Alan Perris concedes that "this year and next year, it is important to watch what goes on and who watches us," as a prelude to the negotiations.

Despite the fact that General Motors has dropped out as an advertiser for the first time in years (the show's fall scheduling was established in the 1950s to coincide with automobile manufacturers launching their new models), broadcasters say it remains valuable.

"It's still a very desirable property, and more so every day," says Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS. "It's what broadcast television does extremely well."

It was Moonves who represented the Big Four networks in the last set of negotiations with ATAS, in 2002. At that time, the networks were rotating the awards for an annual fee of about $3 million. (The network airing the show also picks up production costs of $3 million-plus a year.)

The networks entered those talks grumbling about the costs. But ATAS chairman Bryce Zabel had run for his office on a platform of increasing the revenue from the rights.

"My attitude going in was, 'We need more respect for the academy,'" Zabel recalls.

In the summer of 2002, HBO chairman Chris Albrecht shocked everyone when he offered $50 million for five years of exclusive Emmy rights. That drew a furious response from Moonves, who threatened "divorce," as then-ATAS president Jim Chabin recalls.

Implicit in that was the threat that the networks would counterprogram strongly and kill the Emmy ratings.

The networks finally agreed to a $52 million deal, "but spread over eight years," Chabin explains.

But the deal soon required modification when NBC won rights to broadcast NFL games on Sunday night.

NBC, which aired the Emmys in 2006, gave ATAS a choice: Move the show to Monday night, which has a lower level of viewership, or to the end of the summer, before the start of football. ATAS chose the move to a late-summer date of Aug. 27 -- and ratings dropped from 18.6 million in 2005 to 16.2 million.

Moving it from the third week of September, says Chabin, "was a blow from which it has yet to recover."

Now the ABC telecast will face competition from NBC's NFL game -- meaning a whole chunk of male viewers will

disappear.

"The Emmys have always been primarily female-skewing," says Vicki Dummer, ABC senior vp alternative series, specials and late night programming. But this year, she adds, the awards show will try to compensate for that by targeting younger viewers.

"We're trying to skew a little bit younger by some of the presenters we're having," she says. "The whole point about the show hosts (five reality program nominees) was to draw those younger viewers."

It remains to be seen whether they will help lift ratings -- and, in turn, ATAS' negotiating power.

"The question is going to be whether it is economically viable for the broadcasters to continue carrying it," says one top cable executive. "The networks have a disadvantage in that they only have one revenue stream from advertising. We get value from cable operators for providing programming that they can't get anywhere else."

But the telecast has value to the networks, too.

"I still think it's a valuable asset," says Moonves. "Every network still welcomes having that show on the night before the season begins."


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