The 2019 Emmys were not the first edition of the event to lean heavily on honoring shows not airing on network television. HBO was the first real usurper there, and that later opened the floodgates for the likes of streaming services like Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and more. This year, 20 of 27 awards were given out to premium cable and streaming services. Most of the rest honored basic cable. SNL was network television’s only savior.
When people talk about today’s “Golden Age” of television, they’re of course talking about all of it — no matter where it appears. The amount of good TV as a whole is not only due to one type of distributor of content. From top to bottom, the scripted television you can watch today is better than what came before it.
However, it is still hard to avoid the fact that the shows and artists honored most of late are appearing outside of network TV. The Emmys have long appeared on a big network because it functioned as the epicenter of the TV universe. That’s still the case in terms of audience sizes, for the most part. They’re raking in more ad dollars than competitors, and will continue to for the foreseeable future. Still, if we’re looking at the Emmys as primarily honoring the critically successful shows above all else, does the recent trend indicate that maybe the Emmys themselves should be more indicative of the art it’s acknowledging?
Streaming and premium cable shows have grown audiences swiftly for a myriad of reasons. The way word spreads about new/hot programs today is huge, but the medium (not necessarily date/time-specific) drives quick trials of a show for interested audiences. Streaming shows and premium cable are able to advertise across networks in ways that the “Big Four” typically can’t. And of course, streaming and premium cable function outside of the same censorship rules that networks deal with, and have also given a platform to stories and voices that were rarely heard from on networks until very recently.
That last aspect is what recent versions of the Emmys have tried to tap into to some extent, to reflect the content it’s showcasing. You saw this year’s atypical format try out a lot of different things to see what hit. Unfortunately, ratings dipped to record lows. Perhaps, like the shows that the event is honoring, the Emmys themselves need to move to streaming/premium cable, too.
That doesn’t mean we’ll see a sex-fueled awards show that looks like a deleted scene from the early seasons of Game of Thrones. But the subject matter, topics, non-bleeped profanity… THAT’s going to find itself to be more reflective of the people watching the streaming and premium cable shows that keep winning the awards. My wife and I are both 31 years old, and we’d never watched several of the streaming shows honored. That wasn’t for lack of access, but a lack of time to get to ALL the TV out there.
Now imagine being much older than that age group, being used to the Big Four network structure and then tuning into this show. What would you think? Would you even think the show’s for you? (and for what it’s worth, streaming services actually understand this completely — according to iSpot, 62% of the audience for streaming service ads in 2019 have been toward audiences 40 and older).
None of this means you’re going to “save” the Emmys by moving it off network television. Audience migrations are more rapid and fractured than ever before, and that’s a trend that will continue. There’s a high likelihood that moving the Emmys to streaming/premium cable will result in an even smaller audience in the short-term.
But by moving the Emmys, you could see those short-term losses potentially become long-term gains, and a more captive audience for brand advertisers (assuming you pick a platform that hosts ads). Is that “better?” Perhaps. But it’s definitely more reflective of the appointment TV landscape we’re living in right now — especially as the big networks all launch their own streaming plays.