By Sahil Patel
Not much. Not right now.
No doubt, it’s a significant milestone for original online programming, and should be recognized for that reason alone. But “House of Cards” receiving nine Emmy nominations does not mean we’re about to see more online video programmers graduate to the Emmys.*
Why? Well, consider what Netflix had to do to earn nine nominations for “House of Cards” and three for “Arrested Development.” “House of Cards” required a $100 million investment, a cast headlined by big-name actors like Kevin Spacey, and a massive marketing campaign. When the first season premiered in February on the streaming service, you could not go far without seeing the image of Spacey atop the Lincoln Memorial plastered at bus stops, train stations, and major intersections. When it came time to sell Emmy voters on the show, Netflix implemented a strategy that included election-style lawn signs (native advertising?) in Hollywood.
The other Netflix original series to receive a nomination in a major Emmy category was “Arrested Development,” which isn’t exactly a Netflix original in the way “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” is. The ensemble comedy has an established Emmy pedigree, having previously won Outstanding Comedy Series, which comes in handy when you’re trying convince voters to nominate your show.
In a nutshell, it takes a lot of time and money to get the attention of Emmy voters. For most online video programmers, the economics simply aren’t there to produce and market programming that could stand toe-to-toe with anything from HBO, AMC, Showtime, and FX.
Netflix has proven it is financially committed to Emmy-quality original programming. The company wants to be the next HBO, and already refers to its original slate as “internet television.” In other words, it’s still television, just delivered via a different pipe with a different release model (which is either innovative or stupid depending on who you ask). It would be difficult to call most of the original online video programming that exists outside of Netflix as television or internet television.
Because, let’s face it, there are only a handful of online video providers that are even interested in creating TV-style, Emmy-worthy programming. Most content creators exist on the other corner of the online video ecosystem, where short-form and marketing words like “engagement” rule. The Television Academy already recognizes this ecosystem via the Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media, which is awarded on a separate night and is reserved for most of what you see on AOL, Blip, Yahoo, YouTube, and other ad-supported online video networks today.
Unless any of these companies seriously invest in creating a long-form original program, they don’t belong in the Emmy conversation.**
Netflix does. Amazon might, but we don’t know if it has the same lofty ambitions as Netflix does in terms of its original slate, not to mention the fact that we have yet to see a full season from an Amazon original. Hulu might as well, if it chooses to invest its upcoming $750 million investment toward original programming, which to date has been a side project for the embattled premium video company.
So it comes back to Netflix, which looks ready to stand next to the HBOs and AMCs as a constant presence at the Emmys. It will take a while before anyone else from the web joins them.
* To be clear, I am referring to what most people consider to be The Emmys — the major categories that are awarded during the televised ceremony.
** Not that these companies want to, it’s just an interesting distinction to make when looking at the many different types of content creators, publishers, producers, and platforms that make up the online video ecosystem.