Navigating through the maze of rooms and displays at Netflix’s massive new Emmy campaigning space in Beverly Hills — Look! The bikes from “Stranger Things”! Tituss Burgess’ wardrobe closet from “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”! — “Orange Is the New Black” actress Taryn Manning finally arrived at her own show’s exhibit, which included a wall adorned with (what else?) navel oranges.
“I’m going to have to remember all this next time I negotiate my contract,” joked Manning, who plays Pennsatucky on the series.
Netflix’s splashy investment in a 24,000-square-foot promotional venue on Wilshire Boulevard has a lot of folks in the television industry rethinking things these days.
The location, along with a smaller though still sizable effort from Amazon Studios at the Hollywood Athletic Club, has redefined Emmy campaigning this year. Sending out a DVD mailer and hosting a panel discussion at the Television Academy is yesterday’s news. Emmy voters now need an experience.
“There’s so much competition for people’s time now,” says Amazon marketing head Mike Benson. “You have to find a way to creatively celebrate your show. An open bar doesn’t hurt, either.”
No longer tied to the limited number of traditional Q&A events at the Television Academy’s headquarters in North Hollywood, Netflix and Amazon are now feting each and every one of their programs on their own turf with exhibits, parties and panels.
The Netflix space, dubbed FYSee in a play on the awards season’s endless parade of “for your consideration” hoopla, has hosted events almost nightly since opening earlier this month. Stars from the streaming service’s shows — “House of Cards’” Kevin Spacey, “Grace and Frankie’s” Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, the casts of “The Gilmore Girls” and “One Day at a Time” — have walked the red carpet, schmoozed with guild members and Emmy voters and touted their shows.
“We wanted a chance to celebrate the breadth and depth of our programs,” said Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice president of original content, at the space’s kickoff party. “Look around. It’s really an embarrassment of riches.”
Rival networks have indeed been looking at what Netflix and, to a lesser extent, Amazon, have been doing, and their reactions range from outright envy to astonishment to abject anger. And it’s not just about the money being spent. According to several sources, who, because of professional conflicts, requested anonymity, network execs believe that the near-nightly Netflix events are siphoning Emmy voters from the panels held at the Television Academy.
Netflix’s nights have indeed brought out the crowds. A “House of Cards” event with Spacey packed the FYSee spot and then nearly filled the 1,000-seat motion picture academy theater (located, conveniently enough, across the street) for a screening of the new season’s premiere episode.
People are quick to point out that Netflix and Amazon don’t target Television Academy voters for these affairs — they don’t have access to the mailing list. But they do invite guild members, many of whom, of course, vote for the Emmys as well.
“People are upset,” said one Television Academy member not authorized to speak on the record. “You know, not everyone has a few hundred thousand dollars to build their own pop-up Emmy space.”
Netflix and Amazon officials declined to go into specifics about the costs of their pop-up efforts. One Beverly Hills commercial real estate agent pegged Netflix’s two-month lease on the Wilshire Boulevard property at around $200,000. Additional costs, including catering, security, travel expenses for the talent, would raise the price tag considerably.
But in today’s cluttered television landscape, where just about every network or platform has tried to stake out a corner of prestige programming, marketers and awards consultants are feeling pressured to secure the attention of voters and the media.
That means more spectacular premieres like the one National Geographic threw last month for “Genius,” the 10-part series about Albert Einstein that marks the channel’s first foray into scripted territory. Following the unveiling at Westwood’s Bruin Theater, the network hosted a lavish party inside a cavernous tent nearby, complete with acrobats, live music and catered food from top L.A. restaurants.
“We want to make sure we’re not ignored,” says National Geographic Channel Chief Executive Courteney Monroe, “and that’s hard because there’s so much incredible content out there. But we believe in this series and we want it to get the attention we believe it deserves.”
So, in addition to the Westwood premiere and party, National Geographic rolled out “Genius” at the Tribeca Film Festival and has been keeping lead actor Geoffrey Rush and producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer busy at screenings in Los Angeles and New York.
Networks also look to position their shows at events like the ATX Television Festival in Austin and the IFC Center’s inaugural Split Screens Festival, both of which take place in June, shortly before Emmy nomination voting begins.
“Everybody’s looking to come up with an edge,” FX’s executive vice president of communications John Solberg says. “What kind of impact will it have? We won’t know until the nominations. And even then, we probably won’t know for sure.”
One effect of Netflix’s imposing effort is already tangible, though. They’ve made their talent very happy.
“It feels like family here,” Samira Wiley, another member of the “Orange Is the New Black” ensemble, says, looking around at the Netflix kickoff party while a guest behind her hoists a foam refrigerator prop from “Luke Cage.” “Where else would you want to be?”