HBO's new owners may want something bigger and broader, but what it acquired had long been the most celebrated.
It all changed on Thursday morning, when the premium cable network's 17-year streak as the most Emmy-nominated network came to an end. The widely envied title was passed on to its chief rival, Netflix, which earned 112 nominations to HBO's 108.
HBO can take solace in its individual show tallies with Game of Thrones and Westworld as the first and second (tied with Saturday Night Live) shows, respectively. Where Netflix was able to edge ahead, however, was in volume, a key subject as an AT&T-owned HBO looks ahead.
To industry observers, the hand-off was all but inevitable. After all, the streaming giant had been closing the gap at an unprecedented clip in recent years. In 2015, Netflix picked up 34 nominations. The following year, it had 54. By 2017, it was the No. 2 network with a hugely impressive 91.
And the streamer seemed to spare no expense this year. In addition to its unprecedented output, to the tune of many billions of dollars, it staged well over a dozen FYC events in the 30,000-square-foot space the company rented to dazzle Emmy voters this spring. Ultimately, its latest collection of noms was spread among its varied and lengthy roster, with series such as Ozark, The Crown, Black Mirror, Godless and Wild Wild Country.
Going forward, HBO's new bosses are said to be interested in volume business in a way the network has not previously been — though how much more content and at what price is still an open question. During an initial turn before HBO employees last month, Warner Media CEO John Stankey reportedly discussed his desire to open more nights of programming and beefing up programming to a considerable number of subscribers.
When excerpts from the talk leaked to The New York Times earlier this week, a sense of trepidation, particularly among the critics community, seemed to follow. Can HBO go broader and still maintain its quality? Suddenly, there were a series of panicked tweets and headlines suggesting HBO was somehow trying to become Netflix, who is arguably more focused on breadth than quality — which is not to say there isn't plenty of quality (see its 112 noms.)
One top TV agent explained the difference in strategies, at least historically: "You refer to HBO as a chic restaurant where it's tough to get a reservation and Netflix is an all-you-can-eat buffet."