Emmys: Netflix's 'House of Cards' Yard Signs Up Campaign Ante

Netflix House or Cards Yard Signs - P 2013

Netflix House or Cards Yard Signs - P 2013

Stump for Netflix, get a Starbucks gift card is the latest trick in an all-gloves-off race for a nomination.

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Call it the Netflix effect. As networks wrap the first phase of Emmy campaigning in advance of nominations July 18, competitors agree it has been the nuttiest campaign season in TV history.

Without the restrictions placed on Oscar contenders (the TV Academy does not forbid freebies or other stunts), Netflix has proved an audacious first-time player, plugging House of Cards and Arrested Development via free lunches and signs in private yards throughout L.A. -- some placed in exchange for Netflix subscription coupons or Starbucks gift cards. "It's made phase one a lot more aggressive," says NBC executive vp Richard Licata, who has overseen a push for Parenthood, 30 Rock and The Office. "Emmy campaigning is now a very expensive bridge to promote fall shows and a network's overall branding. It's no longer just 'for your consideration.' "

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While one cable exec laments the "arms race" -- sources say a network's spend on screeners, ads and other expenses can run from $1.5 million to $3 million to reach 15,000 voting TV Academy members -- others are invigorated by Emmy's heightened profile. "I applaud the creative stunts," says Hilary Smith, senior vp at USA Network, which is pushing its minis/movies contender Political Animals. "I'm an academy member too, and I've never had so many gorgeous, slick boxed sets on my desk." Many doubt whether stunts will translate into votes, but others say a bold approach, even on a limited budget, bodes well. "Voters are tired of ads, so how do we stand out in a crowded year? Create a tonally sound campaign that exemplifies our series," says IFC president Jennifer Caserta of James Carville's promo videos for Portlandia. "People are saying, 'I love what you did with your campaign.' "