With the television industry in a disorienting state of flux, the Emmy Awards can function as something of an annual barometer. This year’s nominees, announced on Tuesday, offer helpful insights on small-screen trends.
At 137 and 117 respectively, both HBO and Netflix netted their highest numbers of nominations ever. But after Netflix “stun[ned]” the reigning channel (for 17 years!) by nabbing more nominations in 2018, HBO returned to the top of the pack this year, buoyed by “Game Of Thrones,” making the streaming giant’s brief victory look more like a blip.
GoT set a new record for the series with the most nominations in a single year, with a staggering 32 nods. It’s already the most decorated series in Emmy history.
By number of nominations, the streaming services’ rankings mirror their rankings by number of subscribers: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu. At 47, Amazon more than doubled its 2018 nominations. After HBO and Netflix, NBC came in with the third most noms—although at 58, the network’s tally was only half of Netflix’s 117. It was followed by Prime (47) and CBS (43).
It’s also worth noting that with Netflix losing both “The Office” and “Friends” by 2021, its two most-watched shows, the company could have a much harder time drawing eyeballs to its original programming in the coming years as well.
Variety made a good point on Tuesday, noting how “[t]he tallies also revealed the differing program strategies at HBO and Netflix.”
“HBO scored the most nominations via 23 programs, while Netflix’s tally was spread across 40 different programs. That volume strategy may ultimately continue to serve Netflix well in the coming years, while HBO will continue to rely on a more targeted list of shows to resonate with voters,” the outlet wrote.
But that may not be true in the long term. A New York Times deep dive published just last week revealed that even HBO, with its “tightly curated cluster of shows,” is beginning to recognize that particular approach no longer represents “a tenable strategy.”
The channel’s president of programming estimates “there will be about 50 percent more hours on HBO in 2019 than there were last year,” according to the Times, although he insists the level of quality will remain the same. “We’re not looking to increase volume by lowering our standards.” Good luck!
Considered through the prism of the Times report, the 2019 Emmy nominees could eventually come to look like the beginning of the end for TV’s Golden Age:
For media companies like AT&T, the real value of HBO-style ‘prestige’ programming is not that it produces works of art as profound as ‘The Sopranos’ but that it offers a viable market alternative to all the gaming videos, makeup tutorials and alt-right primers that millions of people spend millions of minutes watching on their phones every day.
This, the Times implies, seems to be moving the industry towards a new trend: abridged programming, delivered in bite-sized chunks to cater to our waning attention spans. Coupled with the shift towards volume, this could mean a decline in quality, especially if it primes the public to settle for truncated episodes from a less curated selection of shows (which I think is already affecting quality).
This year’s list of nominations tell us it’s clearly been another good year for prestige television. HBO is back on top, the Golden Age lives on, and streaming services continue their contributions to this charmed era in TV history.
There may be no sign of decline in the nominations themselves, but recent signals from the industry suggest that could be right around the corner. Then again, if “Games of Thrones” can captivate a mass audience in the era of TikTok, maybe the market for prestige television isn’t actually going anywhere.