2022 Emmys: Do the awards still matter in a TV business under siege?
The 74th Emmy Awards were handed out Monday night with trademark glitz and self-deprecating humor, but this year’s show did little to mask the fear roiling the television industry.
Broadcast networks — where executives are growing resentful over how the ceremony has become a three-hour commercial for their streaming competitors — were recognized with only three televised awards, compared with 11 for the streamers and 11 for HBO’s cable network.
The show aired on NBC, a network that is considering cutting back on the number of prime-time hours it programs.
HBO and its streaming arm HBO Max had a lot to celebrate with 38 Emmy trophies overall, topping 26 for Netflix.
But the wins come amid layoffs and cost-cutting at parent company Warner Bros. Discovery. HBO Max — home of Emmy-winning comedy “Hacks” — will be merged with Discovery’s streaming service next year.
Emmy host Kenan Thompson summed up the state of flux in his monologue.
“If you’re over 50 years old, Peacock is NBC’s streaming service,” he said. “And if you’re under 20 years old, NBC is a network that used to show ‘The Office.’”
The divide is one of the many challenges facing the TV industry. Wall Street is demanding a path to profitability from the streaming business, even the mighty Netflix, which has been humbled by a slowdown in subscriber growth.
Media companies still dependent on cable and broadcast TV while they transition to streaming are seeing cord-cutting shrink their traditional business like an iceberg melting in the sun as they try to compete with deep-pocketed tech companies such as Apple and Amazon.
“What we are going through right now, in the media and entertainment space, is the age of great anxiety,” former Disney boss Bob Iger said last week at Vox Media’s Code conference in Beverly Hills. “People who are running these big companies are anxious. Streaming companies are anxious. Investors are anxious, advertisers are anxious and the creative community is anxious. Agents are anxious, everybody’s anxious.”
Jeff Gaspin, an independent producer and former entertainment chief at NBC, said program sellers who benefited from the boom in content that came with the proliferation of streaming services are going through a period of adjustment. He said companies are taking a closer look at the return on investment for programming, especially higher-priced projects.
“The overall mood is a little concerning that there has been a lot of pushback after years of expansion,” Gaspin said. “People are nervous about the finances.”
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Netflix, the industry’s biggest spender in the last decade, has had a bruising year, tightening its wallet after missing expectations for subscriber growth. The Los Gatos, Calif.-based streamer lost more than 1 million subscribers in the first half of this year, laid off hundreds of workers and canceled numerous shows.
Media companies, including Walt Disney Co., Paramount Global (formerly ViacomCBS) and Warner Bros. Discovery, also have been contracting, trying to pay down debt accrued from recent mergers.
WarnerMedia and Discovery merged in April, a $43-billion transaction. Since then, stock of the new entity Warner Bros. Discovery has lost nearly 50% of its value.
Investors have been concerned about the company’s huge debt load, the price of the failed 2018 AT&T takeover of the company whose assets include HBO, CNN, TBS, Turner Classic Movies and the Warner Bros. film and television studio in Burbank.
Partying HBO employees woke up on Tuesday to learn the parent company had ramped up plans to cut about 200 people from its advertising division.
Company executives are bracing for a brutal fall filled with layoffs that will steadily continue until Thanksgiving, according to one high-level executive who was not authorized to speak publicly about the downsizing.
In all, more than 1,000 people will be cut by year’s end, said one high-level source who was not authorized to comment on the reductions and requested anonymity. The company is shrinking its workforce to find $3 billion in annual cost savings that Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav promised Wall Street.
So why worry about winning Emmys when the business is in the throes of such upheaval and uncertainty?
Like every other televised awards show, the Emmys have diminished as an annual event that attracts a large audience.
NBC’s telecast scored 5.9 million viewers Monday, a new low, according to Nielsen data.
The figure is down 20% from last year’s telecast on CBS (7.4 million viewers), which was up slightly over 2020, when the previous low of 6.37 million viewers was set on ABC.
But in a TV universe that is more fragmented and with critical mass becoming more difficult to attain, the awards have seen their importance rise as a marketing tool. Even a nomination serves as a seal of approval, a signal to consumers to try something at a time when the number of choices they have seems overwhelming.
Programmers know a majority of TV viewers will only watch video clips of the most poignant or wackiest moment of the Emmys telecast. But what endures is saying a show was nominated for — or won — the Emmy, piquing the interest of a streaming subscriber.
“The Emmys have real value, especially to streamers,” Gaspin said. “It’s like what the Emmys meant to HBO and later Showtime years ago.”
After HBO and Netflix, Hulu finished third with eight wins, followed by seven each for Apple TV+ and NBC. Disney+ and Prime Video each had six.
The Emmys have seldom provided a significant ratings boost for winners, although the awards have rescued a few shows from cancellation. But data shows that the lift for streaming programs — which are available on demand — is real.
A Parrot Analytics review found that, in past years, interest soared for such shows as Amazon Prime’s “Fleabag,” the Netflix original series “The Queen’s Gambit” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones” in the immediate aftermath of their Emmy wins as viewers sampled the shows.
The show that got the biggest bounce among recent winners was “Ted Lasso,” after the Apple TV+ show took home its first award for outstanding comedy series last year.
The mogul faces numerous challenges in restoring the Warner Bros. studio to its former glory after nearly four years of AT&T ownership.
Winning still matters to HBO, where executives, producers and stars celebrated their Emmy haul at an exclusive private club, the San Vicente Bungalows, which provided space for only 600 people. In years past, HBO would celebrate its many victories at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, where nearly 2,000 invitees would crowd into a cavernous space lavishly decorated with various themes and elaborate ice sculptures.
On Monday night, the club’s rooms buzzed with stars from HBO shows, several toting their Emmy statuettes. Much of the cast from “Succession,” including Brian Cox, Matthew Macfadyen (who won for supporting actor), Sarah Snook and Nicholas Braun, celebrated in a wood-paneled room featuring a taco bar. Mike White, creator of “The White Lotus,” who won Emmys for writing and directing as well as best limited or anthology series, bobbed through the crowd wearing a Hawaiian lei.
One executive privately joked, “The end of the world is coming,” but slightly in jest. But when asked whether he’d felt the programming pursestrings tighten under the new Discovery regime, HBO and HBO Max’s chief content officer, Casey Bloys, just smiled and said: “Not yet.”
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