Does the Emmy® awards ceremony matter to advertisers?

By Carrie Tiz, Spot Broadcast Supervisor, and Jackie Dumas, Senior Spot Buyer

With the recent Emmy award nominations out and the ceremony airing in September, we started thinking about these big live televised events going virtual. Over the years, ratings have already been trending downward and the shows getting nominated aren’t airing in places that support advertising. So, what’s this mean for advertisers?

First, let’s look at how the nominations have evolved over recent years, what they used to do for shows and networks and where we are now.

How nominations have changed.

The nominations included the usual suspects (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Handmaid’s Tale), snubs (Reese Witherspoon loses out twice), and surprises (What We Do in the Shadows! The Mandalorian!). The list of nominations was a who’s who of networks and streaming services (including Quibi).

And out of 112 possible nominations in the top categories, broadcast networks only accounted for 11. Over the decades, the big 4 networks have dominated the awards, but since 2015 only This Is Us (NBC) has won any major awards. Premium cable (mostly HBO) has been the primary recipient since The Sopranos hit the scene in the late 1990’s. In fact, to date, HBO has won more Emmys than any other channel since the turn of the century. But streaming services are making their presence known.

Surprising nobody, the OTT category received the highest number of nominations at 263, with cable garnering 189 and the broadcast networks coming in last place with only 121. For the first time, Netflix overtook HBO for the most nominations.

But in a fragmented video landscape, the question must be asked: Do Emmy nominations still matter in 2020?

What does a nomination do for a show or network?

According to industry insiders, the primary benefit to receiving an Emmy nomination is in its importance to the creative community. But there are other benefits:

  • A nomination helps to bring new content and talent to a network.
  • For startups, it brings recognition and can shape brand identity.
  • You can’t underestimate positive PR: Nominations signal to viewers that there is something out there that needs to be seen.
  • Finally, it helps reinforce brand awareness and has a halo effect on the rest of the network/platform’s programming.

In the past, however, an Emmy nomination or win would typically increase the ratings for the program. Twenty years ago, The West Wing nearly doubled their viewers after Best Drama wins in 2000 and 2001, going from 9.1 million to 17 million between Season 1 and Season 2. Ten years later, Modern Family won its first Emmy for Best Comedy in 2010 and saw an increase to 12 million viewers from the 10 million in the previous season.

Fast forward to 2020 and the reality is that for most platforms, ratings just don’t matter. The networks and platforms with the highest number of nominations in 2020 are paid subscription services where advertising is not an option. There is no longer a direct correlation between Emmys and ratings, and no definitive way to prove that it can increase subscriber base.

Streaming enters the conversation

Cable changed the content conversation in the early 2000’s and ushered in the era of Peak TV. Streaming services changed the game again when Netflix garnered its first Emmy nomination in 2013 for House of Cards. By the 2019-20 season, it had a record 160 nominations, topping the previous record holder, HBO.

Creators are finding more freedom working with streaming services. No longer are writers forced to succumb to the standards and practices of broadcast or cable networks. And with budgets of up to $16 billion a year, streaming services are able to pay their talent. Shonda Rhimes broke from a 15 year contract with ABC to join the Netflix roster of original programming.

These streaming platforms can take big creative risks because they aren’t held to the shackles of ratings and advertisers. Much of the streaming world continues to be bifurcated:

  • You have the ad-free subscription services like Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Apple TV
  • But then there are the ad-supported networks like Hulu, CBS All Access, and Peacock. But even ad-supported platforms charge a subscription fee.

With four new platforms being released in the last year, it is getting harder for the audience to keep up. Even with changes in viewing habits, people want to be a part of the conversation when it comes to discussing the newest show.

But the Emmy audience doesn’t really care?

When it comes to the Emmys telecast, ratings have decreased 39% over the last four years. In 2019, only 6.9 million viewers tuned into the presentation. And even then, excuses were made for the low ratings. Everything from the show being host-less (like the Academy Awards) to the elephant in the room: the fragmentation is so pronounced that many viewers may not have even heard of some of the nominees.

What about the expectations during a pandemic, where the telecast will be remote? The format will likely be the same since categories haven’t changed, but speeches will be on a Zoom call and expect most jokes to be about “social distancing.” This hurts the warm and fuzzy communal experience the viewer expects in an awards show—not to mention the glitz and glamour. When there are so many content options available at any given time, what’s the draw to watch a remote awards show?

Why don’t the Emmy’s matter to advertisers?

After decades of attracting enormous audiences, neither the nominated content nor the awards telecast can be counted on to deliver the audience that networks and advertisers need.

  • Broadcast and cable networks no longer have a domination of nominations. Most nominated programs are on premium platforms where advertising is not an option.
  • Nominations can no longer be expected to increase ratings. This means advertisers and buyers can no longer use Emmy nominations as justification to chase “the next big program.”
  • Live events are expensive. If the Emmy telecast no longer provides a mass audience for a shared experience, the added expense does not make sense for advertisers.

No one expects the Emmy awards to disappear anytime soon. But with a fragmented landscape and too much content available at the push of a button, “Television’s Biggest Night” will only be important to industry players, media critics, and the pop culture obsessed. It can no longer be used as a popularity metric for any given program or platform going forward.