Four out of the seven nominations in the prestigious outstanding drama category for the 69th Emmy Awards announced Thursday aired on online streaming platforms.
Netflix claimed three nominations with “House of Cards,” “The Crown” and “Stranger Things," while Hulu scored its first nomination with “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Two drama nominees aired on cable TV — AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and HBO’s “Westworld” — and one, NBC's “This Is Us,” aired on a broadcast network.
Cable and broadcast networks still owned the bulk of the nominations with perennial leader HBO topping the list with 111. But Netflix, with 91 — up from 54 in 2016 — was not far behind, outdistancing FX, which was fourth with 55 after setting a record for an ad-supported cable network in 2016 with 56.
The ability of streaming services to capture a majority of nominations in a top program category reflects a shift in the balance of creative power on television. Online platforms picked up 162 Emmy nominations, up from 91 in 2016 and 51 in 2015.
“I think it’s a sea change,” said Warren Littlefield, executive producer of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” who toiled for years in broadcast network TV. “In our daily dialogue we no longer use the term network. We talk about platforms that deliver content. We are definitely in a different TV universe now.”
The landmark Emmy moment is partly the result of the staggering investment in programming made by Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Netflix is reportedly spending $6 billion a year on programming while Amazon is approaching $3 billion. HBO is said to spend around $2 billion a year.
Hulu, which up until now did not have the creative cachet of its streaming rivals, elevated itself with “The Handmade’s Tale,” the provocative series based on the Margaret Atwood novel about a society in which women are strictly subjugated. After outbidding Netflix for the program, Hulu supported the series with two teaser ads during the Super Bowl in February.
“They went into this without fear of doing subject material and then they had a sense they had something special and they went crazy in bringing in people and getting recognition for the work,” said Littlefield.
Hulu scored 18 nominations, up from two a year ago, putting it ahead of Amazon, which despite its heavy investment saw its total remain steady at 16. “The Handmaid’s Tale” accounted for 13 of Hulu’s nominations.
Streaming services are following a strategy that premium cable services HBO and Showtime have long used to their advantage in the Emmy competition. They offer creative freedom in a commercial-free environment where writers, producers and actors can turn out 13 episodes or fewer per season, instead of the usual 22 that broadcast networks require.
“It's much easier to get the best creative talent to work on non-commercial services across the board,” said Garth Ancier, a former network entertainment chief who is now a senior adviser for the interactive media company IAC. “It’s been going this way for a while.”
There had been some grumbling in the television industry over the lavish spending by Netflix on its marketing efforts to garner the attention of Television Academy members to nominate its programs. But the investment apparently paid off.
Throwback thriller “Stranger Things” scored the most nominations for Netflix with 18, followed by British royal drama “The Crown,” which landed 13.
“We want to congratulate the visionaries whose fresh voices, groundbreaking storytelling, and brave performances inspire us daily. To receive 91 nominations across 27 programs is a profound honor,” said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos in a statement.
The strong showing by Netflix and Hulu overshadowed what were strong years for HBO and NBC, which both saw significant increases in their nomination totals. HBO saw its take rise even though its biggest and most heralded program, “Game of Thrones,” did not air during the eligibility period.
HBO’s 111 nominations included 22 for “Westworld,” which was tied with NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” for the most of any program. Limited series “Big Little Lies” received 16, while “The Night Of” scored 13.
NBC’s 64 nominations — up from 41 in 2016 — include 11 for “This Is Us,” the first broadcast network drama series to make the outstanding drama category since CBS’ “The Good Wife” in 2011.
No other broadcast network saw an increase in Emmy nominations. But NBC’s gains helped give the five major English-speaking commercial broadcast networks a total of 158 nominations, up three from 2016. ABC was second to NBC with 33, followed by 29 for CBS, 20 for Fox and two for the CW. The Fox total is down from 29 a year ago, the biggest drop among the networks.
Without its lauded serial drama “Downton Abbey,” PBS saw its nomination total decline from 26 in 2016 to 11.
FX led among the ad-supported cable networks with 55, and had the only new entry in the typically entrenched outstanding comedy category with “Atlanta.” The limited series “Feud: Bette and Joan” scored 18 nominations, tying it with “Stranger Things” for second-most nominations overall.
FX Networks Chief Executive John Landgraf acknowledged that streaming services have intensified the competition.
“When you have a massive influx of lavishly produced programming, they are going to take shelf space, there is no way around it,” he said. “When they are making programs that are extraordinarily great that add to the platinum age of television, I salute them.”
Cable networks that saw significant year-to-year declines include AMC, which had 13 nominations, down from 24. Showtime had 15 nominations compared with 22. Comedy Central scored five compared with 17 a year ago. History had three, down from 13. Discovery’s total declined from eight to three.
On the plus side, ESPN picked up seven nominations after having none in 2016. National Geographic’s total increased from nine to 15. VH1 had eight after being shut out in 2016. TBS had nine, up from four.