Emmys: Why the Academy Needs to Recognize More Web TV Providers

Web_TV_Providers_Comp - H 2015

Web_TV_Providers_Comp - H 2015

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

It's hard to imagine it only has been a few years since we first heard the words "Internet television providers." These innovative content creators — Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and others — quickly have become major players in and disrupters of the TV business.

But the Television Academy, in place to award the best content on the small screen (whether on TV or a computer), shockingly has been much slower than its awards peers to embrace digital programming. Voters from the Golden Globes' Hollywood Foreign Press Association chose Robin Wright of Netflix's House of Cards as best drama actress in 2014. This year, the Globes tapped Amazon's Transparent as best musical/comedy series, Cards' Spacey as best drama actor and Transparent's Jeffrey Tambor as best comedy actor, and the SAG Awards honored the cast of Netflix's Orange Is the New Black as best comedy ensemble, Spacey as best drama actor and Orange's Uzo Aduba as best comedy actress. And the Critics' Choice TV Awards, which in 2014 picked Orange as best comedy series and its Kate Mulgrew as best supporting comedy actress, this year picked Tambor as best comedy actor and Orange's Lorraine Toussaint as best supporting drama actress.

Meanwhile, the TV Academy barely has acknowledged web TV during its Emmy telecasts. Yes, Netflix received a Technology and Engineering Emmy in 2012 for being "an engine driving digital distribution of television." But then, despite accumulating 14 nominations in 2013 and 31 in 2014, it won just three and seven trophies, respectively, only one of which came in a major category acknowledged during the flagship ceremony (David Fincher won in 2013 for his direction of the Cards pilot) as opposed to the nontelevised Creative Arts Emmys.

Other streaming services hardly have registered anywhere: Amazon received a Technology and Engineering Emmy in 2013 for its instant-video service, and AOL's Park Bench With Steve Buscemi, Crackle's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and Funny or Die's Between Two Ferns have landed noms in the short-format nonfiction program category — but that's about it.

Streaming TV isn't going away anytime soon. As Netflix (which also has 2015 breakthrough contenders Bloodline, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Daredevil and Grace and Frankie) and Amazon (Alpha House, Mozart in the Jungle) lead the charge, other original content creators are picking up their game. During the next year, Hulu, which won a Sports Emmy for its docuseries Behind the Mask, will release comedy series produced by Jason Reitman and Amy Poehler; a drama series from Parenthood and Friday Night Lights head writer/executive producer Jason Katims that will star Michelle Monaghan; and a miniseries, based on a Stephen King novel, to be produced by and star James Franco. Yahoo will offer a comedy from a producer of Ted and a former director of Saturday Night Live. And RLJ Entertainment's Acorn TV, which streams British programs, also might enter the arena, having acquired rights to one of its most popular shows, Foyle's War, which allows it to produce future seasons.

It's time for members of the TV Academy to get with the program — or, at the very least, get (and actually use) a Roku. Voters should recognize the best and most important work, not the safest and most familiar. That means watching and considering new shows from new sources, not awarding the same winners time and again. (In 2014, ABC's Modern Family won the comedy series Emmy for a fifth straight year; Jim Parsons of CBS' The Big Bang Theory won best comedy actor for the fourth time in five years; and the list goes on.)

The TV Academy recently decided to open the awards voting to its entire membership of about 19,000 — a process heretofore conducted by panels of a few dozen members. Because the entire membership always has determined Emmy nominations and Netflix shows have garnered a considerable number of noms, there's reason to believe this change might be a boon to it and all other Internet TV providers at this year's awards telecast Sept. 20.

If the TV Academy doesn't shift with the times, it won't be long before Emmy viewers decide to change the channel.