A broad legal victory for ATAS

Panel goes against NATAS in new-media Emmy tiff

In June, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences handed out broadband Emmy Awards for drama, comedy, variety and (animated) children's programming. They will be NATAS' first and last after the New York TV academy lost its legal fight with the 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, 'longform,' reality shows, children's animation, made for television movies and nonfiction filmmaking."

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

ATAS, which presides over the primetime Emmys, is working on expanding its awards portfolio into broadband content in the areas it oversees. Ironically, NATAS' broadband award for comedy, which was given 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 nontelevision 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 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 in the year 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 sought arbitration on the matter and filed a lawsuit against NATAS, seeking an injunction to prevent NATAS from launching any new awards related to digital content (HR 3/24).

In the spat between the academies, NATAS also withdrew its consent to the Interactive Emmy awards being 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' nonfiction awards, arguing that documentaries not produced by the network news division might continue to be judged by ATAS.

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

NATAS had been trying to launch such and awards show for five years, but ATAS didn't go with the idea, citing concerns about 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 Joint Committee proposal on the subject 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 (HR 3/28).

In July, arbitrators made an interim ruling, barring the sides from issuing any new awards until the October hearing and subsequent resolution by the panel (HR 7/10).