Like TV Itself, Emmy Arms Race Only Escalating

Networks, streaming services do everything from traditional ad campaigns to creating experiential spaces to grab voters’ attention

Why This Matters

Emmy nominations and wins burnish TV brands, and networks are working hard to score them.

Related: Adding Pop to FYC Push for ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Star

If you open any Hollywood trade magazine or visit industry news websites around this time of year — or if you just happen to be driving down the Sunset Strip — you can’t miss them: For Your Consideration ads coming at you from every magazine page, web banner, pop-up and billboard.

As Peak TV continues to peak, it’s harder than ever to grab the attention of Emmy voters, so networks and streaming services from Acorn TV to FX to Lifetime to Netflix are going wall to wall to try to make an impression.

“Emmy nominations and wins are extremely important for the FX brand,” FX Networks CEO John Landgraf said. “Dating back to when The Shield and Michael Chiklis’ win put FX on the map 15 years ago, we’ve had the great fortune of having award-worthy shows and talent associated with those shows.”

HBO was the pioneer of using Emmy as a marketing tool. Back in 2004, with such breakout shows as The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, the premium network started scooping up golden statues. HBO’s rivals took notice and, since then, the Emmys have become a pitched battle for recognition, branding and bragging rights.

“Everybody looks at HBO as the gold standard; deservedly so,” Landgraf said. “That said, last year FX finished second to HBO in both Emmy nominations [56, a basic cable record] and wins [18, also a basic cable record], which was more than any other network or streaming service, and only behind HBO’s 22 wins. Clearly, FX has come a long way over the past 15 years and our success at the Emmys has helped establish FX as one of the premier brands in television.”

Getting Voter Attention

With so much television on the air — and so much of it really good — it’s hard for Emmy voters or for viewers in general to experience even a solid sampling of everything on offer.

To combat that, networks take several tacks to get their word out. The tried-and-true method is the FYC campaign, which typically involves running ads in trade magazines. Advertising and editorial coverage go hand in hand, so trade magazines also step up the number of stories they dedicate to Emmy-worthy shows and performances around this time of year.

“Every year, we are focused on all the essential parts of a solid Emmy campaign: strong editorial coverage in the trades, a robust advertising campaign with striking imagery, For Your Consideration screenings and panel discussions and targeted stunts,” Landgraf said. “We also have the fortune of highlighting the critical acclaim our shows receive in our advertising.”

The time frame within which to accomplish all of this is very specific: On Monday, June 12, voting begins to determine the Emmy nominations; that process concludes June 26. Nominations will be announced July 13. Voting on the winners then starts on Aug. 14 and concludes on Aug. 28.

The 69th annual Emmy Awards take place Sunday, Sept. 17, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and will air on CBS, with Stephen Colbert as host.

Beyond running trade ads and scoring stories, networks work closely with the TV Academy to host official panels and screenings. Each network only gets a few dates — awarded through a lottery system — to promote their wares in front of a room full of Academy members and Emmy voters, so these dates are scarce and highly prized. The TV Academy closely guards its list of 22,000 voting members, and anyone who wants to reach that list has to work through the organization.

Related: And the Nominees Were

While networks do everything they can to take advantage of that, they know those dates alone won’t meet their needs, so they also try to reach Emmy voters in other ways. Screenings and events may be offered for relevant groups within the guilds, such as the Writers Guild of America or SAG-AFTRA, or special activations are created. Many networks set up websites where voters can screen all of a network’s programming for free.

The Academy also sent members a Google Chromecast streaming device (with instructions on how to use it) so that they could “cast” video from the online viewing platform onto a television.

Subscription video-on-demand service Acorn TV — which offers U.K.-originated programming, such as made-for-TV movie Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution and limited series Close to the Enemy — allows Emmy voters and media members to watch its shows for free at https://acorn.tv/awards.

“We have a great relationship with Emmy magazine, so we’ve got a nice ad with an FYC disk in the current issue,” Acorn TV general manager Matt Graham said. “We do a bit of guild outreach and a handful of ads in other targeted publications. For us, it’s about the quality of the content. That’s why we put up an FYC site that is super-accessible, with no passwords required. We want Academy members to check out the service and we give out a free code to Academy members.”

Acorn TV managed to score an Emmy nomination in 2015 for another of its made-for-TV movies: Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain. That has inspired the streaming service — whose parent company, RLJ Entertainment, owns a majority share in Agatha Christie Ltd. — to continue to pursue nominations.

“We did work really hard for that nomination and we were obviously thrilled to get it,” Graham said. “It inspired us to continue with a guerilla, organic strategy that’s based on the strength of the content.”

Acorn faces additional hurdles in its quest for nominations and wins because not many voters subscribe to the niche streaming service — hence the awards website — and it’s based in Silver Spring, Md., so it’s not in the mix in Hollywood like most of its bigger competitors are.

“It’s tough for us, because the talent is international, and it’s hard with their schedules to set up events with them in Los Angeles,” Graham said.

On the other side of the spectrum, Netflix, which has several shows in contention this year and has been coming on strong since House of Cards became the first Emmy-nominated streaming show in 2013, took the FYC campaign to a new level this year.

The streamer hosted Academy-sanctioned panels this year and built a 24,000-square-foot experiential space, where voters could come and check out Netflix’s programming such as The Crown, Stranger Things, House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and many more. Netflix rival Amazon did something similar, if a bit smaller, at the Hollywood Athletic Club.

Netflix’s FYSee immersive experiential space debuted on Sunday, May 7, with a private kickoff party, and then launched more broadly on Monday, May 8, with a panel with House of Cards star Kevin Spacey and a screening of the first episode of the show’s new season, which premiered on the service May 30.

After that, Netflix hosted a month of programming to expose potential Emmy voters to its shows. While no networks have access to the TV Academy’s list, by offering the space, Netflix had a good shot at reaching a lot of them.

Premieres, Parties Can Help

While that new effort might have worked in Netflix’s favor, it also caused some networks and studios to privately grouse that the streaming service was competing with them on their sanctioned TV Academy nights, something the Academy works hard to avoid in scheduling its own events. But the Academy can only monitor the marketing around its own events; it cannot place restrictions on publicly held ones, other than to require that marketers not use terms such as “Emmys” or “TV Academy” when it comes to their FYC campaigns.

The cost of Netflix’s Beverly Hills, Calif., space was estimated to run as much as $200,000 for rent alone, not counting potentially expensive add-ons such as food and beverages, according to the Los Angeles Times. That’s an amount that smaller networks and services, such as Acorn TV, can’t really aspire to. But what they can do — as National Geographic Channel did for high-profile limited series Genius — is throw a spectacular party, including a premiere and an event with catered food, open bar, live music and acrobats.

In the end, though, the best marketing still hinges on producing an amazing show and then letting the viewers decide.

“When all is said and done, it all boils down to the quality of the shows,” Landgraf said.