Rivals Grouse as Netflix Shakes Up Emmy Season: "It's Become a Free-for-All"

The streaming service's flashy promotional space this season had rivals crying foul, but the TV Academy says it fell within the rules, and now the wait is on to see if the deep-pocketed streamer will see an uptick in noms.
Illustration by Bartosz Kosowski

If you walked into the 24,000-square-foot exhibition space at 8942 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills any day between May 7 and June 12 (the date Emmy nomination voting started), you would have seen a Netflix mecca of sorts, celebrating the voluminous content from the past year that the streamer hopes will be recognized with nominations.

Among the installations in this prime rental space were the bar from Master of None (from which actual bartenders served comped drinks), the tiaras and costumes from The Crown, the van and bikes from Stranger Things, the lockers from 13 Reasons Why, a brick wall filled with cash from Narcos and the list goes on. There also was a red carpet running in front of a Netflix-emblazoned step-and-repeat, which led to an area that could seat up to 300 guests for screenings and talent panels — of which there were many, most filled to capacity.

This production was described in Netflix promotional materials as its "FYSee" space, a play on the industry term "FYC" — which, of course, stands for For Your Consideration and forms the basis for the promotional events sanctioned by the TV Academy and scheduled across dates spanning March through June. There's one of those screenings almost every night during those months, usually at the TV Academy's Wolf Theatre in North Hollywood, for which the academy facilitates not only the outreach to its members (networks pay a fee for each invitation) but also the scheduling of the events, employing a years-old lottery system designed to prevent competing events on the same night but frustrating much of the industry in the process.

In each of the four years since House of Cards began streaming in 2013, Netflix's annual nomination tally has grown — from 14 to 31 to 32 to 54 — and it now releases as much Emmy-contending programming as any broadcast network or cable channel. Nevertheless, the streamer only drew three event dates in this year's TV Academy FYC lottery (some major outlets drew fewer and some smaller ones drew more), which it used for events built around promoting The Get Down, Orange Is the New Black and Master of None. It got the benefit of an additional date when Universal turned one over for an event centered on its co-production Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, with Netflix picking up the tab. But Netflix could not possibly promote all of its Emmy-hopeful programming on so few dates, so it came up with other ways to do so, including launching the FYSee space, as well as hosting other screenings and Q&As across the street at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 1,010-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

"We are working with the best and most creative minds in the industry, and we have to elevate our efforts to highlight their collective incredible work," Cindy Holland, Netflix vp original content, tells THR. "This FYSee space is a by-product of that." It should be noted that fellow streamer Amazon hosted a similar, albeit somewhat less ostentatious, event space this year: Eleven days of activities around such shows as Catastrophe and I Love Dick at the Hollywood Athletic Club.

As a result, many of the streamers' competitors feel aggrieved, with several complaining to THR that the FYSee space in particular is a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of TV Academy rules intended to prevent outlets from courting members outside of the official FYC process. (Netflix worked with various guilds to extend invitations to their members, usually for "administration fees"; not all guild members are among the roughly 20,000 TV Academy members, but most academy members belong to a guild.) The competitors feel that Netflix is indeed a disrupter, but not in the way it likes to see itself.

"It's become a free for all," says a rep from one, with another labeling it "a ridiculous situation." Some argue the TV Academy is turning a blind eye while Netflix, with its seemingly bottomless pockets, is spending the kind of money most of them don't have (one guesstimates the FYSee production cost Netflix millions). "Now everyone else wants to know why we're not doing [a space], when in fact we don't even know if it accomplishes anything, just like the actual FYC events," says another. "It's not worth it to go out and spend all that money not knowing how many actual voters I'm going to get." Adding insult to injury, some competitors believe Netflix's FYSee offerings ate into the number of TV Academy members who attended their official events.

But nobody is actually breaking any rules, the TV Academy confirms to THR. "Every partner has operated within the confines of our FYC program," says a spokesman. "Beyond our FYC rules, we cannot control how others spend their marketing dollars." In other words, life is not fair, and restraint of trade is not legal.

Is there a way to make things slightly fairer, though? The TV Academy, which strives to keep the playing field as equal as possible through its FYC lottery system and by forbidding more than one event on any night, might consider the possibility of letting multiple FYC events go head-to-head. Sure, they could eat into each other's attendance, but at least they'd be regulated and outlets might not feel as pressured to host their own expensive events outside the system.

Then again, if Netflix doesn't see a major increase in its Emmy nominations this year, even it might not want to continue such an expensive campaign model.

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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