Do The Netflix Emmy Nods Mean YouTube is Next?

Do The Netflix Emmy Nods Mean YouTube is Next?
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By Noah J. Nelson (@noahjnelson)

It was five years ago that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences opened up the door for web based "television" shows to be nominated for the Emmy Awards.

Today the Kevin Spacey led, David Fincher-produced, Netflix bankrolled House of Cards stepped through that door, sweeping up nine nominations including the big prize: Outstanding Drama Series.

Five years may seem like a long time, but this is just the beginning of a generational shift as the very nature of what we think of as "television" broadens out to include just about anything that isn't a feature-length film.

So how long will it be before we see series like Video Game High School (Rocket Jump/YouTube), The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (YouTube), or East Los High (Hulu) scoring Emmy nominations?

Josh Cohen, co-founder of Tubefilter and the Streamy Awards doesn't think web series fans should be holding their breath.

"I don't think we're going to see a sudden influx of programming from web platforms make its way into the Emmy Nominations of any of the major categories," said Cohen today.

"That is, unless web platforms are now more incentivized to produce programming for the reported $4 to $6 million per-episode budget of House of Cards. It's difficult to compete for Best Drama against Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Downtown Abbey unless you can come close to matching, or surpassing, their budgets. Even, Louie's per-episode costs of a few hundred thousand dollars would be a big budget show for the vast majority of online video platforms. Competing without those kinds of capital resources certainly is not impossible, but it is certainly very hard."

Despite the lack of deep pockets keeping web series producers out of the big categories, the rise of Netflix has caused an existential crisis in television.

Take a look at the rules, adopted in 2008, that set all this in motion. From the "Criteria for Eligibility" section of the 2009 Primetime Rules & Procedures guidebook. The section begins:

The 2001 rules book language stating that only programs "originated for" television are Emmy eligible was changed in 2002 to "originally aired on" television in order to clarify that the Academy does not include in its eligibility test the development history of a program. [Emphasis added]

The first rule in the section below that has the big shift:

Programs (and individual achievements within them) are eligible for nomination if they were originally aired or originally transmitted during the eligibility year in any primetime period (6:00 PM - 2:00 AM) (i) by broadcast to at least 50% of the total potential U.S. television audience or, (ii) by pay/basic cable transmissions (including by way of example so-called basic cable, pay cable, pay television, pay-per-view, interactive cable and broadband) to markets representing at least 50% or more of households in the United States. [Emphasis added]

"Originally transmitted" and "broadband" are the two key terms here. There are limitations on programs: they cannot be "generally exhibited" theatrically or offered for sale on home video or the internet more than seven days before that "original transmission".

That's the framework. Pretty much anything else goes. Well, anything aside from the running time.

While there is nothing in the rules that says that the Outstanding Drama or Outstanding Comedy series have to be longer than 44 or 22 minutes, respectively, the rules for Special Class - Short-format Live-Action Entertainment Programs are framed around those standard show lengths.

Our collective attention spans may be drying up, but the awards still go to shows that demand sitting still for longer than it takes to beat a level of Angry Birds.

It is in that Special Class category where we see web series emerging. The Yahoo/Paramount co-production Burning Love picked up a nomination today. Scan over that sentence again and you'll see Streamy Award/Tubefilter co-founder Cohen's point coming back around. Those are two major media companies pouring money into both the show and the "For Your Consideration" campaign.

That last bit may be the biggest factor. It was impossible to drive around LA for the in June without seeing Kevin Spacey glaring from a billboard or popping up on election-style lawn signs. Netflix put a lot of money into the campaigns to get their shows nominated.

By comparison, Tatiana Maslany of the BBC America series Orphan Black--considered by many critics to be the finest performance by an actor this year, period--was ignored by the Emmy voters. Even with heavy Emmy buzz on social media, the system still favors the old fashioned big media buys.

That's a factor no independently produced web series can really work into their budget. For the foreseeable future, the realms of YouTube and the Emmy's will remain distant cousins.

Follow Noah Nelson on Twitter (@noahjnelson)

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