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Networks spend millions chasing Emmy cachet

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The big television networks and studios have shelled out millions of dollars marketing their shows for Emmy consideration, and on Thursday they'll find out if that spending paid off when nominations are announced.

But what will they get for all that money if a nomination leads to a win?

Although a film might see a box-office bump after earning Oscar gold, an Emmy win has little influence on television ratings. The rewards instead come from the cachet it brings to a show, the type of projects and talent it drives to a network, and the heft it adds when shopping for syndication rights.

"All broadcasters want to be associated with quality and an Emmy gives that distinction," said Warren Littlefield, the former NBC head of entertainment who is now a producer behind the FX miniseries Fargo (shown on FXX Canada north of the border). "It gives a network or a studio bragging rights."

Television is undergoing a considerable growth spurt in original programming as broadcasters are being elbowed by streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon. For perspective, there were 29 shows submitted for outstanding drama series in 1992 and today that number has swelled to 108.

The crowded field for an Emmy is causing a battle royale in ad spending, with some networks budgeting as much as $3 million on For Your Consideration campaigns.

There are those cover wraps on newspapers and trade publications, and mock front or back pages. Websites are bustling with banner ads. Buses with FYC ads swoosh by on L.A. streets already teeming with advertising on buildings and billboards.

The advertising blitz is targeting the more than 15,000 voting members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences who determine the nominations, as well as the winners when the award show is broadcast Aug. 25.

"It's madness out there," said Richard Licata, head of publicity for NBC and dubbed the wizard of Emmy campaigning after two decades of such work. "Yes, it's about winning the gold, but just is as important with the campaigning is branding your network and shows and talent -- the perception can lure advertisers to consider you if they haven't before."

He said that the competition has intensified so much that networks never stop campaigning for Emmy nominations, unlike in years past. "It's become a year-round thing," he said. "There's a lot out there and you can't leave the thinking to the last minute if you want to make a dent."

The glut of programming is also forcing networks to become more creative. They are entering shows into different categories from previous years in the hope of scoring a win.

For instance, Showtime's gritty hourlong Shameless, which centres on a brood of dysfunctional Chicago siblings and their alcoholic father, this year was submitted in the comedy category after years of entering as a drama. And HBO's close-ended, eight-part True Detective was submitted in the drama category instead of what many felt should have been miniseries.

At 2.7 kilograms and 40 centimetres tall, an Emmy brings heft to a show's standing, said veteran TV producer Mark Burnett.

A big player in the reality genre, Burnett said Emmy wins helped his shows be taken seriously. His formidable The Voice on NBC last year became the first singing competition to win an Emmy in the reality competition category -- and that can be the best kind of advertising.

"It says to the public, 'Hey, this is worth your time. The academy thinks this is one of the best shows of the year,'" Burnett said.

On the network side, the dogged campaigning helps stroke the egos of top-tier talent on shows. This helps keeps A-list actors happy and helps networks attract other top-tier producers and actors.

Basic and premium cable networks are also relying on Emmys to keep their subscribers at a time when many people are cutting the cord to save money. Such networks have done particularly well in the drama category with hits including Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire.

That has left the four major networks (NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox) eager to prove they're not outdated after being shut out from the drama category in recent years.

A major win for Netflix or Amazon could signal a turning point for streaming sites as a home to high-quality exclusive content that can't be missed. That could spur the streaming sites to crank up production of more shows to attract subscribers.

The cable industry had long been shut out of the Emmys until FX's police drama The Shield scored a best actor win in 2000. The award drew the attention of advertisers and prompted networks to pursue more original programming.

There are also the financial rewards that come with an Emmy win.

Studios stand to benefit when shopping Emmy-award-winning shows for syndication. For instance, 20th Century Fox Television landed a blockbuster deal to air reruns of Modern Family on USA Network in part because of its four Emmys for best comedy.

An Emmy doesn't have an immediate ratings impact because the telecast airs during the summer when most shows are on hiatus. But the buzz could draw more viewers for the next season.

Before its Emmy win, Modern Family averaged 8.2 million viewers in its first season; the season after the win, that rose to 9.6 million. Similarly, The Shield went from two million viewers to 2.2 million. Those increases helped the shows fetch higher advertising rates.

But that's not always the case. Some shows are critically acclaimed but unpopular with viewers. For instance, a best comedy win for the quirky Arrested Development during its debut season didn't help during the second season when viewership dropped five per cent.

Tim Brooks, a television historian, said an Emmy win doesn't necessarily translate to a bump in viewership because TV is a casually consumed medium.

"It's easy to tune in and out any time you want," he said. "There's no real urgency."

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2014 C3

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