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The Price of Emmys - Broadcasting & Cable

The Price of Emmys

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To see how far Peter Price has come in his efforts to grow the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), one need only view the guest list for this year’s News and Documentary Emmys. The Sept. 25 gala will attract 1,000 guests, up from about 500 when Price took over as the organization’s president/CEO in February 2002. Since then, he has worked to expand the Emmys base by launching awards shows, including Business & Financial Reporting, and adding fresh categories, such as digital video, as well as new areas for the Technology & Engineering Emmys.

As NATAS prepared to hand out its 27th annual News and Documentary Emmys Sept. 25 in New York, Price spoke to B&C’s Allison Romano about his vision for the Emmys, why he pushed hard to add digital awards and what the Emmys’ next batch of categories will be.

Since you took over NATAS, you’ve been on a mission to expand the Emmys. What areas were most important and why?

We want to recognize more diverse parts of our business. As TV transforms, I wanted to engage the new technologies. I also wanted to better recognize underrepresented parts of our business, like high school students, Spanish-language TV, and business and financial reporting, which never made it into any final nominations because they were always buried under war and mayhem stories.

You’ve run into opposition to some new categories, including the Hispanic awards. What was the most difficult to launch?

The Spanish-language awards were challenging. Spanish-language programs are eligible for Emmys, but they’ve had a tough time getting recognition. It is language issues, not ethnic issues. Everyone recognizes that telenovelas are an art form like soap operas. [Univision anchor] Jorge Ramos is as important as Katie Couric or any other well-recognized anchor in the English-language business.

But most members of the Academy do not watch Spanish-language television and are not sensitive to its value. So we had to tell the story of the size, dimension and value of their business. Once that was better-told, the recognition followed.

The student television awards were another challenge. Some people felt recognizing high school students was perhaps giving undue credit to people that were not professionals. But au contraire. As MySpace, YouTube and Google Video are showing, there are hundreds of thousands of videos posted by aspiring producers. Some are quite Emmy-worthy. The student program has grown by 50% each year. But it required some education that Emmy-worthy doesn’t mean age-worthy. It means doing excellent work.

What was the response to the digital awards?

That’s the area that galvanized the most debate. There is a great discussion in the Academy and in the TV business right now about what is television. Is it original programming that is not broadcast or delivered by cable or satellite? For the next generation of viewers, it is.

There was a great debate over that and fashioning the rules. What would the categories be in a world with no dayparts? What is daytime and primetime on the Internet? These are relevant questions. But the analog world we used to live in has given way to a non-linear digital world, and we have to reframe our rules, our thinking and our categories.

What’s the next area where you’d like to expand the Emmys?

The next step will be multiple categories for broadband- and mobile-delivered videos. For example, this year in the News and Documentary Emmys, we have one category for digital video and six nominees. Next year, there will be four categories to better serve what is going to be an explosive number of entries. Rather than just original news delivered by Internet, broadband or mobile platform, there will be separate categories for current news coverage, long-form documentary, arts and lifestyle reporting, and business and financial reporting.

Could a regular Joe who submits user-created content win an Emmy?

There is no description of who is a qualified entrant, only qualified programming. There is no limit today on a person being a professional or an exceptional amateur. The perception was, you needed a fancy studio and a lot of money to produce video that would rise to the level of Emmy-worthiness. But what you’ve seen from our first year is that that isn’t necessarily true.

At times, your New York-based organization has been at odds with the Los Angeles-based Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. How are things these days?

It is better than ever. I’ve been to ATAS to meet with the new COO Alan Perris and Chairman Dick Askin. We’re having our first joint committee meeting soon to formulate what we can do together. We’re not just ironing out our differences but productively creating new events and programs.

We’re trying not to be so New York-centric. For example, we took the Daytime Emmys to the Kodak Theater [in Los Angeles], and the two Academies jointly hosted a party the night before with Soap Net. It was a small but powerful example.

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