The 2018 Emmys nominations marked a tipping point for streaming television: for the first time in TV history, Netflix topped the list of platforms with the most nominations by nabbing 112. It also ushered in a changing of the guard, as the streamer edged out HBO, which—with a not-too-shabby 108 noms—fell from that top slot for the first time in 18 years.
This shift feels symbolic at a moment when HBOs future direction is in question, thanks to recent remarks by John Stankey of Warner Media, which recently acquired the cable network and seems interested in increasing HBOs volume of programming, reaching a broader audience, and more generally diving into the streaming wars.
HBO has always focused with laser-like intensity on quality over quantity, and it continues to pay off at awards time. Game of Thrones got 22 Emmy nominations this year, the most of any single show; Westworld followed close behind with 21, tying for second place with NBCs S.N.L. Netflix, on the other hand, has plenty of quality shows, but only one of them—The Crown—is in the top 10 for most nominations.
Instead, Netflix pushed its way to the top of the nominations tally by sheer volume. It has so many shows and so much talent that it cant help but swarm the list with such programming as Stranger Things, GLOW, Black Mirror, Queer Eye, Seven Seconds, and Wild Wild Country.
Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos emphasized this point in his Thursday statement, saying, “We are particularly enthused to see the breadth of our programming celebrated with nominations spread across 40 new and returning titles which showcase our varied and expansive slate—comedies, dramas, movies, limited series, documentary, variety, animation, and reality.” HBO hit a similar note in its statement—“HBO is very pleased with its 108 nominations, especially the wide range over so many categories.”—suggesting that the network is very much aware of this battle for breadth.
Sarandos has vowed to spend something like $8 billion dollars on content for Netflix this year, much of it original. HBO is believed to spend between a quarter and a third of that amount—something that will almost certainly change with the new ownership. Meanwhile, a number of new streamers are gearing up to enter the original-content streaming wars soon, including Apple, which is snatching up talent for a network that is said to have an original-content budget of more than $1 billion.
This years Emmy nominations are another sign that streamer dominance is nigh. Hulu and Amazon are continuing to grow in terms of both subscriptions and stature. Hulu nabbed 27 nominations, a big increase for the network, largely thanks to the critical behemoth that is The Handmaids Tale. Similarly, Amazon received 22 nominations, their most ever—but heavily indebted to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisels 14 nods. These are the kind of landmark shows that help streamers plant a flag. “Were ecstatic that both the creative excellence and cultural relevancy of our programs are being celebrated,” said Hulu C.E.O. Randy Freer.
Warren Littlefield, executive producer of The Handmaids Tale and former president of NBC, went further. “Today is another notch in the streaming belt and thats with HBO having an outstanding, phenomenal showing with 108 nominations,” Littlefield said in an interview. “But if you look at Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon and you add together their noms at 161, and you add four platforms called networks together and you have 159, I think you see where things are headed. And Apple isnt even in the game yet.”
Major networks have been losing awards ground in recent years, first to cable channels and now increasingly to streamers, both of which are far less constrained by the need to have every show appeal to the broadest possible audience. But network TV has not completely given up the ghost. NBCs 78 nominations nabbed third place in total noms behind Netflix and HBO, while CBS trailed with 34 and ABC with 31. If you look closely at the networks numbers, youll notice that a lot of the nominated shows are not comedy or drama series, but live special events, reality, and variety shows. Saturday Night Live, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, and The Voice were among NBCs top nominees (along with hit drama This is Us). CBSs major nominations include The Amazing Race, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. ABC was an exception, holding space in major categories with nominations for its comedy, Black-ish, and Shondaland some acting noms in the dramas Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder—although those last two bear a bittersweet edge, since Shonda Rhimes signed a massive production deal with Netflix. And snubbed this year was the networks Modern Family, which had been nominated in the comedy-series category every year since it debuted in 2009 (and had won the award in each of its first five seasons).
The networks nostalgic dreams of recapturing its storied past and wooing a broad audience with reboots hasnt paid off awards-wise, either: Will & Grace got five nominations, but of the main cast only Megan Mullally was recognized; and the now-obliterated Roseanne earned just a single tip of the hat for supporting actress Laurie Metcalf.
Awards do not make and break networks, but the increasing dominance of streamers prestige helps cement their place in the content wars. It also grabs attention from viewers bombarded by an ever-expanding number of televisual options.
With additional reporting by Nicole Sperling.
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