How an Emmy Nomination for Netflix Could Change the Future of Television

Netflix has certainly enjoyed success with its original programming. It does not announce “ratings” for shows like House of Cards, Arrested Development and Orange is the New Black, so it’s possible, but unlikely, it’s just a couple really loud people on your Twitter feed talking about the ongoing schemes of Rep. Frank Underwood. Chances are, a whole lot of people are watching these shows. But are Emmy voters paying attention as well?

Perhaps the biggest question leading up to the announcement of Emmy nominations tomorrow is whether or not Netflix will be invited to the adults’ table. Both House of Cards and Arrested Development have a good shot of picking up at least one nomination each. And Netflix has certainly been campaigning hard, employing lawn signs to attract the attention of voters and offering members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences free barbecue. But why should we care whether or not Kevin Spacey gets to add an Emmy to his collection of Academy Awards? Though the medium of “television” has been in transit for years (we still call it TV but most of us are watching on our computers, our phones, our DVRs), Netflix’s first Emmy nomination could signal a major shift not just in how we consume television, but where it comes from.

The concept of original programming for an online-only streaming service is incredibly new. An endorsement, by way of a nomination, from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences could do wonders to legitimize not only the shows on Netflix, but also Hulu and any other streaming sites. It was in 1988 that the Academy first allowed cable networks to compete (both Showtime and HBO picked up nominations that year) and just 25 years later, the Emmy Awards are dominated by cable networks. Last year, ABC and CBS picked up five awards each but NBC tied with the History Channel and Comedy Central with only two (both were for Saturday Night Live). HBO, on the other hand, received six wins and 30 nominations.

Networks initially complained that the competition is unfair because cable channels don’t have to deal with as many regulations and restrictions. Their shows’ seasons are also much shorter, which allows for more planning and precision. But Netflix — which airs content on the internet, the new wild west — can do even more than cable. There is no limit to how long an episode can be, neither are there limitations on cursing and nudity. By all accounts, those involved with Netflix shows have praised the creative freedom they’re allowed. If Emmy voters accept these shows into the fold, we could soon see more established writers and actors seeking Netflix out over network (or even cable) television.

The other question worth posing is whether or not an Emmy nomination for Netflix opens the flood gates. What, truly, is the difference between what Netflix and YouTube do? Pondering this very subject, Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz wrote:

[Streaming shows are] meant to be viewed all at once, and they’re conceived like a very long movie, and produced that way, too — which is different from the production of a broadcast or cable network series, which is spread out over a much longer period and requires a lot more improvisation on the part of writers and crew.

Certainly as long as Emmy voters care about quality, Jenna Marbles won’t be taking home a golden statuette. But who’s to say that a well-crafted show on YouTube couldn’t, one day, become a major Emmy contender? I’m certainly not the first to ponder whether or not YouTube could replace television, but placing the two in competition directly against each other is certainly an easy way to answer it.

Whether or not the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is ready to accept Netflix as one of its own could have big implications on the future of television. If House of Cards nets a nomination, it signals a shift in the way we consume entertainment, one that has to have networks like ABC, NBC and CBS shaking in their boots.