A broad legal victory for ATAS

Panel goes against NATAS in new-media Emmy tiff

The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences handed out broadband Emmy awards for drama, comedy, variety and (animated) children's programming in June. They will be NATAS' first and last after the New York TV academy lost its legal fight with Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts & Sciences over the creation of Emmy Awards for digital content.

A three-member arbitration panel Tuesday sided with ATAS and barred NATAS from "awarding any new Emmys which infringe on the genres reserved to ATAS: drama, comedy, variety shows, music, 'long form', reality shows, children's animation, made for television movies and non-fiction film making."

According to the arbitrators, each academy can award Emmys for broadband contents only in the genres under their jurisdiction, which allows NATAS to honor broadband sports and news programs, among others.

ATAS, which presides over the prime-time Emmy Awards, is actively working on expanding its awards portfolio into broadband content in the areas it oversees. Ironically, NATAS' broadband award for comedy, which was given out at the academy's creative arts Daytime Emmy Awards, went to Webisodes of NBC's "The Office," an ATAS darling that won the best comedy series primetime Emmy in 2006.

Excluded from consideration by either academy is content "for non-television devices such as cell phones and IPODs," the panel said.

"This is a resounding victory for our Television Academy and duly establishes that NATAS' misguided actions were clearly inappropriate," ATAS chairman Dick Askin said. "The ruling is a confirmation that NATAS was in violation of our existing agreement and must cease and desist on any future violations of any unauthorized usage of the prestigious Emmy award and brand without our approval."

The arbitration panel on Tuesday also nixed NATAS' partnership with MySpace on soliciting broadband Emmy submissions.

The East Coast/West Coast 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.)

In addition, ATAS became concerned about NATAS' signing MySpace as a sponsor for its broadband Emmys. So in March, ATAS seeked arbitration on the matter and filed a lawsuit against NATAS, seeking injunction to prevent NATAS from launching any new awards related to digital content.

In the spat between the two academies, NATAS had also withdrawn its consent to the Interactive Emmy awards given away by ATAS' International TV Academy branch at MIPTV in 2006 and 2007.

The arbitration panel didn't find support for NATAS' claims that it has been damaged in any fashion by the 2007 Cannes ceremony and gave the New York-based academy 21 days to give ATAS its consent for a 2008 Interactive awards.

Additionally, the arbitrators also denied NATAS' request to enjoin ATAS' non-fiction awards, arguing that documentaries not produced by the networks news division may continue to be judged by ATAS.

Following a five-day hearing held in October, the arbitration panel, which included three former judges -- two from California and one from New York -- also made a ruling on another long-time bone of contention between ATAS and NATAS, the establishment of Spanish Language Emmy Awards.

NATAS had been trying to launch such and award show for five years, but ATAS didn't go with the idea, citing concerns over oversaturating the Emmy Awards shows and offending the Hispanic community.

The arbitrators concluded that "ATAS did not unreasonably withhold its consent to Spanish Language Emmy contest" and asked ATAS to consent to the parties' February 2007 Joint Committee proposal or to present facts in support of a refusal.

Shortly after ATAS filed its suit against NATAS, the legal dispute was deferred to arbitration by U.S. District Judge Manuel Real in Los Angeles.

In July, arbitrators made an interim ruling, barring the two sides from issuing any new awards until the October hearing and subsequent resolution by the panel.