The Emmy nominations have been released and two of the biggest names on the list are Netflix (Orange Is The New Black, House of Cards, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Bloodlines) and Amazon (Transparent). That’s a sentence that would have been unthinkable even two years ago. It represents a triumph for OTT, but more than that, it represents a triumph for the industry’s newfound ability to stop catering to mass audiences and the lowest common denominator.
Like fellow standouts HBO (Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep, Girls, The Newsroom, The Comeback) and Showtime (Homeland, Episodes, House of Lies, Shameless), Amazon and Netflix don’t rely on advertising. That means they don’t need to cater to the lowest common denominator in the hopes of getting the largest audience and thus the most money for their ads. They can, instead, focus on getting a very specific audience, one that avidly supports high quality programming. The rationale is that people who are avid (versus lukewarm) fans of a show are likely to create a lot of buzz for that show. That buzz gives subscription networks the ability to retain current subscribers while attracting new ones.
It’s an economic model we’re going to be seeing a lot more of, even with networks that rely on paid advertising. High quality programming is going to create buzz, and that’s going to bring both attention and the type of audience premium advertisers are looking to target. As we’ve noted previously, it’s just a matter of time before the industry moves from day parting to “audience parting”—targeting ads to specific audience segments. That will free the networks, the cable networks in particular, to focus on reaching specific audience segments. That in turn will allow them to run programming aimed at those audiences, which frees up the show’s creators and in turn increases the quality of what’s on television overall.
We’ve already seen a surge of quality programming on cable networks, and that’s also reflected in this year’s nominations, as shows like Orphan Black (BBC America), Mad Men (AMC), Better Call Saul (AMC), American Horror Story (FX), and The Honorable Woman (Sundance) make the cut. It’s a trend we’re likely to see more of as television continues to bask in the glow of its second Golden Age. While some may caution against a glut of great original programming, we don’t think there can ever be enough. Good TV is at a point where it can live long beyond its original broadcast, remaining relevant decades into the future, the way good books and movies do.
The Emmy Awards will take place on September 20th, 2015. You can find a full list of nominees here.