Internet TV shows get the industry seal of approval
Established TV networks overlooked as online service Netflix bags a host of Emmy nominations
The era of internet television is officially here.
Netflix's House of Cards garnered nine Emmy nominations this week, becoming the first show delivered exclusively online to be nominated in the major categories including drama series, lead actor and lead actress.
The nominations gave instant credibility to Netflix, which scored an additional five nominations for the comedy Arrested Development and the horror series Hemlock Grove, while underscoring the declining influence of the major broadcast networks.
For the second year in a row, the legacy networks failed to land a single nomination in the best drama category. The sole entry from broadcast is the period piece Downton Abbey, which PBS imports from Britain's ITV.
The strong showing by Netflix will undoubtedly prompt others to get in the game, said Brad Adgate, an analyst for ad firm Horizon Media in New York.
"We will see a burst in original series online," Adgate predicted, noting that Hulu, the digital TV service owned by Disney, Comcast and News Corp, has earmarked US$750 million for new programming. "Getting original and exclusive content will help separate the companies."
A clubby world that still pays heed to federal communications regulations written nearly 80 years ago, the legacy networks were forced to adjust in the late 1990s to attention-grabbing HBO series such as the Emmy favourite The Sopranos. More recently, AMC's The Walking Dead, Mad Men and other hits on basic cable have drained more viewers from broadcast.
Now, the Emmy's embrace of House of Cards augurs a coming tide of original online content - a genre that until earlier this year was often derided as synonymous with "webisodes" and cheap, short videos. (Organisers allowed online producers to submit their work in Emmy categories starting in 2007.)
"Television is what's on the screen - it's not how it gets there," Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said.
The company is planning what Sarandos dubbed an "aggressive" extension of its programming slate; the comedy Orange Is the New Black - overseen by the former executive producer of Weeds - opened last week to strong reviews. Amazon in May started production on five new series, including a political comedy with former Roseanne star John Goodman.
All this is already changing what viewers see. In House of Cards, for example, producers ditched the cliffhangers that are a cliche of prime-time dramas - because they figured that people who were interested in the show would 'binge-watch' (watching consecutive episodes back-to-back) anyway, so there was no need of trying to coax them back with a contrived lure.
Of course, Netflix, which has 36 million subscribers, is not yet the beast that ate Hollywood. Sceptics have faulted the company - which hopes its on-demand service will eventually make Nielsen TV ratings obsolete - for refusing to cough up viewership data. "If People Really Love Netflix Originals, Why Won't (Netflix) Tell Us How Many Watch Them?" Forbes asked in an online blog post this week.