TV academies agree on this

Arbitration for new-media dispute

The TV academies are going to let the arbitrators hash things out.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real in Los Angeles deferred to arbitration a dispute between the local Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the New York-based National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which are wrangling over discussions related to the creation of new Emmy Awards honoring digital content.

The referral to arbitration was expected because a long-standing agreement between the academies provides for disputes that arise to be sent to arbitration. But ATAS also had wanted the judge to issue a temporary restraining order in the matter barring NATAS from proceeding with any plans for creating new-media Emmys.

Real nixed that, ruling that the matter could be arbitrated before any potential harm might occur. It is expected that one or more arbitrators will be named in the case within 30 days.

The issue recently heated up after the East Coast/West Coast rivals had been working together for months on separate recognition for new-media content, but sources said talks between the sides broke off 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.

In addition, NATAS was said to have made ATAS suspicious by signing MySpace 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, ATAS two weeks ago sought to have the matter mediated by the American Arbitration Assn. Last week, the Los Angeles-based academy also filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeking injunctive relief to prevent NATAS from launching any awards related to digital content. NATAS on Monday filed a reply objecting to ATAS' request for seeking the injunction, arguing that ATAS waited too long before taking action against NATAS' plans for new-media Emmys and that the case should have gone to arbitration, not federal court.

In regard to Real's ruling Tuesday, an ATAS spokeswoman said: "The judge has not ruled on the merits of the case; instead, he has recommended that this would be best resolved in the hands of an arbitrator. The television academy is optimistic that this matter will be resolved fairly and quickly."

NATAS president and CEO Peter Price hadn't heard word on the court decision or seen the ruling by press time Tuesday but did reiterate previous remarks that he was surprised at the original demand for arbitration at a time when NATAS believed the two groups were close to an agreement and having "very collegial dialogue."

"If the judge has indeed suggested that we go back to arbitration, that is what we thought the academy in Los Angeles wanted in the first place and we were in the process of implementing," he said. "So frankly, we think this whole exercise of seeking a restraining order and injunction in a federal court was a waste of everybody's time and money and an embarrassment to everyone. So if indeed the judge has pointed back to what the agreement calls for, which is sitting down and working things out together rather than in front of a judge, that is a fine result. We didn't want to be in court and didn't want arbitration; we wanted to sit down and try to do things together with our colleagues."

Meanwhile, Raul Mateu, chairman of the Emmys en Espanol organizing committee, issued a statement Tuesday regarding the proposed new-media and Spanish-language Emmys, the latter of which NATAS started pushing for in 2002. ATAS had been hesitant to move forward with those Emmys for several reasons, but the issue reportedly had been brought back to the table recently.

"It is distressing to hear that the academy in Los Angeles continues to thwart the recognition of not only Spanish-language television but the whole new generation of independent producers on the Internet, based upon the irresponsible assertion that such recognition 'proliferates' Emmy Awards to the detriment of the Emmy brand," said Mateu, senior vp and managing director of Miami operations at WMA.

He also applauded NATAS' efforts to reward Spanish-language stars and noted that "absolutely none of the Spanish-language stars or programs have ever won a national Emmy Award competition."
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