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The Emmys have become a volume game.
The TV Awards’ main narrative these past few years, outside of representation and the insurmountable odds of toppling favorites like Game of Thrones, has been HBO versus Netflix. These platforms’ alternating leads among nominations have seen the prestige pendulum swing back and forth, allowing the pair to essentially share dominance in an industry that’s forever preoccupied with bragging rights. But Tuesday morning’s nominations for the 2020 Emmys seriously tipped the scale in Netflix’s favor. Even with the most accolades for a single project, limited series Watchmen (26), HBO only pulled 67 percent of the total nominations nabbed by its biggest rival.
Netflix led all platforms with 160 nominations. HBO trailed distantly with 107 mentions. Despite boasting a force like Ozark, which tied HBO’s Succession for top drama with 18 nominations, Netflix accomplished its coup on the back of its sprawling library. The streamer has a total of 51 projects nominated. That’s more than double HBO, which clocked in this year at 21 nominated projects.
One has to examine the TV Academy’s exhaustive nominations documents to notice that disparity. After all, the field seems relatively even up at the top. Among the most dominant 40 series, films and specials (read: those fetching five or more nominations), Netflix comes in with 10 to HBO’s eight. But, looking further down the list, the scope of Netflix’s representation becomes apparent — with nearly half of its nominated series fetching just a single nomination. Per project, HBO fares much better. The cable network boasts an average 5.1 nominations for entrants compared to Netflix’s average 3.1. (Netflix had 51 shows earn at least one nomination, while HBO had 21 total.)
Nominations, naturally, are just one part of the bragging rights. They fuel the discussion between the announcement and the actual Emmy awards, certainly aiding momentum during the second voting window, but Emmy night often evens the scales. In 2018, Netflix narrowly bested HBO among nominations (112 vs. 108) with the pair ultimately tying among wins with 23 apiece. In 2019, HBO reclaimed its nominations lead (137 vs. Netflix’s 117) and ultimately scored more wins (34 vs. 27) thanks in no small part to the final season of Game of Thrones and surprise limited favorite Chernobyl. Still, if HBO does emerge most victorious on Sept. 20, what chance does the iconic TV brand stand of reclaiming its nominations crown?
The answer to that question could ultimately depend on semantics. The recent launch of WarnerMedia streaming service HBO Max, which houses the HBO library and a great many other things, is already blurring the lines between HBO and its corporate siblings. On its own, HBO has no chance of ever having as many nominated projects as Netflix. With the weight of a much larger streaming service behind it, odds (and spending) would be significantly improved. Netflix, after all, is getting these nominations on the back of its unrivaled content spend. The streamer was on track to spend $17 billion in 2020 before COVID-19 ground production to a halt.
For now, HBO is alone in second place on its own merits — with its small but formidable roster. And if early favorites Watchmen and Succession play well among voters, there are multiple easy paths for the network to again be the Emmys’ top winner. But if it really is an honor just to be nominated, that biggest honor looks likely to be Netflix’s to lose for the foreseeable future.
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