LOS ANGELES >> It looks like all those DVD mailers and billboards paid off.
After blanketing Los Angeles and other parts of the world with for-your-consideration ads and screeners for its bounty of shows, Netflix today dethroned HBO, the longtime king of Emmy nominations, by hauling in 112 Emmy Awards nominations. It was the most of any network and more than double its total from two years ago.
The strong showing was further evidence of the streaming company’s rising clout in the fast-changing TV industry.
HBO, which has been the industry leader for nearly two decades, followed with 108 nominations, snapping a 17-year streak of garnering the most Emmy nods. However, HBO’s ambitious “Game of Thrones” scored the most nominations for any series in television, with 22, including for the most coveted category: drama.
The Netflix win reflects the sheer volume of shows that the popular streaming service runs and underscores the strength of its strategy to offer something for everyone. Netflix pulled in nominations for high-profile series, including “The Crown” and “GLOW,” but also for smaller-scale fare, such as “Somebody Feed Phil” and the acclaimed documentary “Icarus.”
“Netflix is just flooding the market with programming,” said Deana Myers, television analyst with Kagan, a research arm of S&P Global Market Intelligence.
And it’s spending billions of dollars more than other networks combined to do so. The Los Gatos, Calif., company projected that it would pay about $8 billion on content in 2018, up from $6 billion in 2017. However, a recent Goldman Sachs report estimated that Netflix could spend $12 billion to $13 billion on content this year. In contrast, HBO spends about $2 billion a year for programming, including licensing fees for Hollywood movies, according to Kagan.
Emmy nominations, in many ways, have become big business. Netflix spent lavishly — well over $15 million, according to industry insiders — to promote its shows, more than double what HBO, cable network FX and others individually spent on their Emmy campaigns.
This year, Netflix flooded Television Academy members with DVDs and rented a soundstage at Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles, where it built extravagant exhibits featuring shows such as “The Crown,” “Godless,” “GLOW” and “Ozark.” The wooing included panel discussions with prominent members of the cast and producers in early June. There was even a question-and-answer session with Jamie Foxx and Barbra Streisand. Netflix also snapped up marquee billboard displays along the Sunset Strip to advertise its shows.
The company ripped a page out of HBO’s playbook by recognizing that big billboards, full-page print advertisements, splashy events and other awards show acclaim can be intoxicating for talent, who are leaving traditional TV studios to work with Netflix.
During the past year, Netflix has lured such big-name producers as Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Ryan Murphy (“Glee” and “American Horror Story”) and, just this week, fan favorite Jason Bateman. Today, Bateman landed an acting nomination for “Ozark.” This spring, the streaming service even scored a producing deal with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.
“Netflix has been very aggressive in demonstrating its intention to be a serious player in television,” said Martha Lauzen, a San Diego State professor. “It seems inevitable that Netflix would surpass HBO in terms of nominations since awards are, at least in part, a numbers game.”
Beyond the prestige they bring, nominations have a financial benefit too. Touting “Emmy nominated” shows helps Netflix market its service in the U.S. and abroad. The identification has morphed into a modern-day “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” which helps viewers figure out what to watch amid the sea of 450 original series being produced this year.
“We congratulate our creative partners on their unprecedented success today,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos in a statement. “We are particularly enthused to see the breadth of our programming celebrated with nominations spread across 40 new and returning titles which showcase our varied and expansive slate.”
The Emmy nominations come amid a summer of great transition in the TV industry. Telecommunications giant AT&T in June took over Time Warner, HBO’s longtime parent, and the new management signaled that it wants HBO to increase its output amid a more competitive landscape.
With AT&T now at the helm, HBO has found itself under the microscope in ways that it hasn’t been before.
At a recent town hall meeting with HBO staff in New York, John Stankey — a top AT&T executive who is now running WarnerMedia — promised a greater investment at HBO but also warned employees to brace themselves for a bumpy ride.
“You will work very hard this next year,” Stankey said, according to a transcript of the gathering published by the technology site Recode. “It’s going to be a tough year. I mean, it’s going to be a lot of work to kind of alter and change direction a little bit, but I think you’re going to feel really good about it.”
Myers, the analyst, said Stankey appeared to be saying that HBO’s focus on programming Sunday nights was a relic from an earlier era. “He wants them not just to dominate Sunday nights, he wants HBO to have a viewership presence throughout the week,” she said.
Traditional TV giants recognize that streaming services have gained favor with consumers because of their lower subscription fees and breadth of content available to watch.
Walt Disney Co. has been battling Comcast Corp., owner of NBCUniversal, over huge chunks of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox empire, including Fox’s prolific television studio, which produces such shows as NBC’s “This Is Us,” ABC’s “Modern Family” and Fox’s “The Simpsons.”
Part of Disney’s rationale in bidding $71 billion for much of Fox is to build an arsenal of programming to launch a Disney-branded streaming service next year. The deal also would give Disney controlling interest in streaming service Hulu, which landed a record 27 Emmy nominations, including 20 for “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Some critics believe the drama based on the Margaret Atwood novel may repeat its win from last year for drama series.
Amazon Prime Video also landed a record 22 nominations, including 14 from the freshman comedy series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
“We are extremely proud that the Television Academy honored so many of our talented actors, creators and craftspeople across a number of Amazon series,” said Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios.
The nominations were “another notch in streaming’s belt,” said Warren Littlefield, an executive producer of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” who ran NBC Entertainment during its heady years in the 1990s when the network featured “Seinfeld” and “Friends.”
Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Studios combined fetched 161 nominations, Littlefield said, noting the Big Four broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — combined to capture 159 nominations.
“It feels like this is just the beginning for streaming to put its stamp on content creation and content presentation,” Littlefield said.
NBC ranked third in Emmy nominations with 78, with strong showings for family drama “This Is Us,” perennial favorite “Saturday Night Live,” and live special “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Even though HBO came in second in total nominations, it performed strongly in top categories, and its drama “Westworld” came in just behind “Game of Thrones,” with 21 nominations, including for drama. Three HBO comedies drew nominations in the comedy category, including the freshman “Barry,” which drew 13 nominations, the quirky Larry David show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Silicon Valley.”
“The quality of HBO’s shows has not gone down,” said Myers, the analyst. “And HBO still has several marquee shows: ‘Westworld’ and ‘Game of Thrones.’ “
Last year, HBO had 111 nominations and 29 wins. HBO’s true test will come on Sept. 17 when the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
“HBO is very pleased with its 108 nominations, especially the wide range over so many categories,” the network said in a statement. “We’re grateful to all our nominees for making this the eighth year we’ve had 100 nominations or more. We look forward to Sept 17th.”