Looking to draw broad conclusions about the state of the streaming business from this week’s Emmy nominations? Here’s a suggestion: Don’t. As tempting as it is to correlate industry recognition with commercial success, there has never been strong overlap between the two metrics. Emmy love can help boost a platform’s overall brand and even help some newer shows grow their audience. But in general, consumers don’t make decisions about what channels to watch or how to spend their subscription dollars by checking Emmy track records. And as the streaming space becomes more mature, awards may matter less than ever to the bottom line.
This is not to suggest Emmys are irrelevant. They are absolutely a helpful way of gauging the general health of platforms’ program development and marketing teams. AMC announced itself as a new force in the cable content wars of the late aughts when Mad Men and Breaking Bad suddenly entered the chat and started competing with heavyweights from HBO, FX and Showtime. Netflix’s push into first-run programming was similarly given a sheen of respectability when Emmy voters reacted to its ever-growing slate by handing it more and more nominations (and wins). This year, HBO Max’s galaxy of nominations demonstrates that fears the decades-old HBO halo of quality would be diminished by the expanded output of HBO Max were overblown. Conversely, the fact that Peacock got just three Emmy noms, fewer than Bravo or YouTube, is a symptom of the streamer’s continued struggles to market itself to audiences— even niche ones like the Hollywood elites who vote for awards.
HBO/HBO Max chief content officer Casey Bloys, whose platform dominates this year with 140 nominations, says Emmys matter “in terms of perception of quality … an Emmy is a nice validation.” But while he of all people has reason to assign heavy importance to industry honors, even he is honest about what they do and do not mean. “Emmy nominations are always nice; wins are nicer,” he told me Tuesday. “But if we got 10 more nominations or 10 less nominations or whatever, it wouldn’t change the shows that we’re doing. It’s not the business reason that we’re doing this. If we had [finished in] second or third place, we’d still be making the same kinds of shows.”
Credit Bloys with consistency: He was saying pretty much the same thing last year, when HBO Max finished just behind Netflix in terms of Emmy wins (but still tallied one more nomination). But he’s also being realistic about how much the TV industry has changed, and continues to evolve. The Sopranos and Sex and the City suddenly doing well with awards helped HBO leadership at the time sell the service as a destination worth paying for — as more than just a way to watch feature films sooner. FX and Netflix’s early Emmy wins helped them lure writers and actors who previously might have scoffed at doing “basic cable” or “streaming” shows.
Now, though, there are no lines between streaming platforms, or platforms in general. Movie stars sign up to do digitally-delivered TV for cable networks with relatively little buzz (see Julia Roberts and Sean Penn in Starz’s excellent but overlooked Gaslit). Apple TV had a remarkable year with Emmy voters, scoring 52 nominations in its third at-bat and soaring 40% over its 2021 haul. But it didn’t need to prove itself with nominations to lure Jennifer Aniston, Oprah Winfrey, Ben Stiller, or Jason Momoa to do shows for the service. It had the Apple brand (and a big checkbook) to convince talent to hop onboard. The love from the TV Academy is mostly just a nice added bonus — one whose biggest value will come in helping Apple (and other Emmys overachievers, such as Hulu) burnish their marketing messages.
HBO Max’s Boss on Why Next Year’s Emmy Season Might Be a Bit More Manageable
Even if Emmys only matter around the margins of the streaming wars, platforms such as Netflix and HBO Max still spend millions trying to convince their colleagues to shower them with acclaim. And as I reported a couple months ago, that desire to get shows recognized also played a part in the winter and spring programming crush which overwhelmed viewers— and possibly led to some expected Emmy faves getting forgotten by voters. I chatted with HBO Max’s Bloys about his platform’s very, very good year, and one of the topics we discussed was whether he thinks next season will be any different.
Do you think it was a mistake for the industry to roll out so many shows within the first few months of 2022? And do you think we’ll see folks rethinking that strategy of debuting big titles close to the nominating window?
You wrote about this, but everybody’s putting as much stuff in January through June and I think ultimately shows do get lost. But this is the game we’re playing … I think ’22 will be a bit of an outlier for a couple of reasons. One was, you did have COVID overhang, right? And I do think that the correction that Netflix went through is going to have a lot of effect as everybody tries to figure out, well, how do you make sense of streaming as a business? What is it going to look like? I do think that there’s going to be some winnowing on the number of shows. So between ’22 being an outlier for COVID and changes in the industry, post-Netflix correction, I think you’re going to see a natural lessening of the number of shows. But let’s see.
Would you change anything about where you scheduled shows, particularly that stretch in the first four months of the year when it was one big title after the next?
No, I don’t know that I would have — I think it all made sense. We’ve got a pretty packed year all around, so it’s not like there are holes elsewhere.
Did you find yourself competing with yourself this season, more than perhaps ever before?
Well, it is tough because shows are like your kids and every one of them you know so well. And the group of people who work on the show, the creators and actors and writers and directors, you want to see the best for everybody. It’s tough when some shows get nominated and some don’t. But you just have to kind of keep at it. We’re used to shows kind of coming out and announcing themselves right away. Succession got 25 nominations in its third season. It got [five] nominations in its first season. Sometimes shows have to grow, and build fan bases. So there are different ways to do this.
Do you think the Academy should do more to help a larger number of shows get recognized, given how many more shows there are?
No, I don’t, because not everybody’s going to win or be nominated. It doesn’t work like that. It’d be nice if every show could get nominated. And I certainly have shows that I would’ve liked to have seen nominated. But this is the business and it’s competition. and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But just because there’s a lot of shows, I don’t think that the academy has any kind of obligation to do something different so more people win. That wouldn’t make sense to me.
The TV Academy refused to offer an official tally of nominations by platform, perhaps because some in the business still think HBO and HBO Max shows shouldn’t be counted together, or because FX doesn’t want its shows added to the Hulu tally even when some can only be seen on Hulu. What’s your take on that?
I think it’s a little bit of hand-wringing. All HBO shows air on HBO Max, and I oversee both of them from a programming point of view. It’s the same production group, the same business affairs group. I don’t think there’s anybody else who has the same setup that we do. But what matters ultimately is the shows that get nominated. I’m not going to lose too much sleep over how people count them up. I think it makes perfect sense that we are combined totals with HBO and HBO Max, but ultimately what matters is the shows that are nominated.
Netflix’s Advertising Plans Take Shape as Earnings Day Looms
If you haven’t already, set a reminder for next Tuesday on whatever calendar app you use: At around 1 p.m. Pacific Time, Netflix will reveal whether its April prediction that it would lose 2 million subscribers during the second quarter was on the money. That forecast prompted the biggest crisis of confidence for Netflix since at least the days of the Qwikster debacle back in 2011, and quite possibly in the company’s entire history. A worse-than-expected result will not be good, to say the least; a surprise on the upside could mark the start of a comeback. Either way, Netflix is already moving quickly to respond to its new reality, most notably on its previously announced plan to introduce advertising to the service.
On Wednesday, Netflix chief operating officer Greg Peters said the company had contracted with Microsoft to serve as its “global advertising technology and sales partner.” Translation: Microsoft’s engineers will now work with Netflix’s engineers to figure out how to incorporate ads into a platform which heretofore has been proudly devoid of them. Unlike the old days when linear TV ruled the world, streamers (and even broadcast networks) don’t simply sell commercial time to companies and then insert their ads into scheduled breaks. Today, video advertising, like internet advertising in general, is tailored to consumers based not only on what kinds of shows they watch but what the all-knowing algorithm determines you should be pitched. Netflix has previously used its own very advanced algorithm to connect subscribers to new programs; now it is betting Microsoft can take that same data and make Netflix an ideal destination for advertisers looking to sell cars or cosmetics.
Interestingly, much of the published speculation about whom Netflix would partner with seemed to center on every company other than Microsoft. Comcast, Roku, Google — all were identified as being very close or in deep talks with Netflix about a deal. No doubt Netflix did talk to all of those companies, but in retrospect, it makes sense it wouldn’t trust its own deep reservoir of data with third parties who have very advanced streaming businesses of their own. After all, they’re competitors, and even if you assume there’d be certain firewalls ensuring that, say, Peacock wouldn’t suddenly know how many people were watching each episode of Squid Game, a partnership on ad sales would probably have prompted regular waves of speculation about deeper integrations between companies or talk of acquisitions. Microsoft may be a less flashy choice, but at least on the surface it seems the safer one.
What (Even More) Industry Insiders Really Think
My favorite part of putting together our annual ranking of the hottest streamers right now is surveying industry insiders about their oh-so-hot takes on how the platforms are doing. It’s by no means a scientific poll, but the folks who participate are, without an exception, accomplished figures within their respective fields (producers, execs, agents, analysts) and collectively know a lot about how things work in Hollywood and in corporate America. Most of them are also very, very talkative, which meant I couldn’t fit all of their opinions into my story last week detailing their deepest thoughts about the state of streaming. The good news: Sequels are hot this summer, and newsletters were made for bonus content.
Below I’ve collected even more insights and observations from our panel of 14 Hollywood and media business veterans, listed in the order in which the group collectively ranked the eight major platforms. All were granted anonymity in order to speak freely about the streamers, important since most of them work regularly with execs at all of the services. One final note of explanation: We spoke to multiple people within various segments of the business, so the descriptions used below do not refer to individual persons but rather to their role in the industry.
PR exec: Just impossible to deny the quality of the original programming and the depth of the library, even with a challenging UI that seems to make you want to search for the series you are currently engaging with every week. But the shows are more than worth the effort. If they could only find a way to add reality TV and news, they’d really have something.
TV exec: The decision to release new theatricals on HBO Max was risky. But it has paid off. Combined with an aggressive slate of premium scripted series, HBO Max has successfully made the OTT jump.
Reality TV producer: This one also has about a billion question marks next to it. Will it become the merged Discovery+/HBO Max hour? Which interface will end up being the winner of the acquisition? With Casey Bloys’ scripted picks, the service can’t go wrong. But the unscripted options are much less interesting — and as a seller, everything seems to have stalled as the merger solidifies. Will Casey still have oversight of unscripted? Will it become the place for Discovery’s properties to live? No one knows.
Agent: The service just feels more balanced and deeper than the others. The movies are pretty great too.
PR exec: The HBO halo still reigns supreme. It’s the service I log into weekly and still most consistently.
PR exec: So much chatter over those Marvel shows, even when people don’t like them. I don’t watch a lot of Disney+ so it will be interesting to see how they work to grow their fanbase beyond the Marvel universe and kids programming.
Wall St. analyst: Waiting for more constant flow of tentpole series and for the impact of broader content investment.
Producer: Marquis, event programming makes me think of Disney+ — not daily as a place to go. If you have little kids, I could see it as a daily dose, or if you are a devoted Marvel and Star Wars fan. In this game, you need to get the habit going across all age groups. Just not sure what their identity is with the mass audience right now- they need to work on it.
PR exec: A must for families, in the way that both Netflix and HBO Max need to lean in more to their kids and family offerings. The Marvel and Star Wars series aren’t a must for me but they’re high quality. Great movie library. It’s top 3 for sure.
PR exec: Scale is frankly what keeps Netflix in the top 3 for me. They can showcase a show or movie to subscribers with a giant photo when you login, and if it starts to take off, it seems like that’s when they start more marketing. But they put out so many movies and shows weekly, I find that if I miss something new in the early window (call it the first month after release), I rarely go back to watch because word of mouth has quickly deteriorated. Their dogma around the binge model served them well early on, but the market has completely evolved, and their thinking around some of those principles should too. It’s the only way they’re all going to keep passing the keeper test.
TV exec: Not what it used to be for sure. But, maybe that’s a good thing — you can only create so many docs-series and stand-up specials before viewers start sampling other new services. But don’t feel too bad for them. 221 million subscribers with a truly global footprint is still light years ahead of the competition (though Disney is closing that gap).
PR exec: Hate to pile on but outside of Stranger Things, they are a mess. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me 10 times (with terrible movies starring A-list stars), shame on me.
Agent: Netflix just has not had much. I loved Inventing Anna, but it was a hate-watch. You can’t deny Stranger Things. They really seemed to score with Lincoln Lawyer. But comedies are a miss.
PR exec: Industry schadenfreude aside, Netflix remains unquestionably number one and when you’re looking for something to watch it has a great algorithm that actually understands its subscriber base. It knows what you watched and keeps feeding you more of it. They will eventually have to reevaluate the binge model as they’re burning through content far too quickly and their series come and go without the buzz that a weekly model would surely bring them. The global footprint still makes it the top service in terms of reach around the world. Good mix of series, movies, and original movies as well, and I actually enjoy the dubbed international content. It’s clearly one of the top services users will always subscribe to.
Producer: Major points for finding a few breakthrough shows and making noise in the quality department. The biggest issue is the mass audience does not understand how to use this platform as they do the other streamers. The noise they make seems to land on the coasts. I can’t tell you how many people still ask me how to find shows I have produced for them. For a place that is all about consumer breakthroughs, it’s just not breaking through for the everyday user. Most people don’t even know it’s pre-loaded on their phone!
PR exec: As Netflix demonstrated years ago, it only takes a few titles people are talking about to make a new arrival feel real and relevant, and Cupertino has gotten there. Not to mention the billion pockets, and the many billions in the pocketbook. Sports is an interesting new frontier. Believe.
Streaming analyst: What an extraordinary surge in top shelf programming. Still overlooked, but probably not for long.
Producer: Easy to navigate. Programming on brand. Well-produced promos.
PR exec: They took home an Oscar for best picture. And then they did it without patting themselves on the back afterwards.
TV exec: The “basic cable” of streaming seems lost. Becoming ABC’s “Plus” service seems like it’s going in the wrong direction. But as part of the Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu bundle a future strategy emerges.
PR exec: Fantastic series. Normal People was brilliant, and they’ve kept an impressive track record of acclaimed projects since then with Only Murders, The Great, etc. Also love having access to the library of series from other networks.
Wall St. analyst: We are waiting to see more great content from Hulu, and the wait aside from a few great shows like Dopesick, The Dropout, and Pam & Tommy feels like it has been ongoing since 2020! NBC content is about to leave, and Disney is focusing its aim on broadening out Disney+, so we are waiting to see what happens.
Producer: It’s the new cable. For now, the next day viewing catch-up works and gives you a reason to check out the platform regularly. Replaced the DVR. If that only winds up being ABC, it could be an issue. The future is getting the 20- and 30-somethings to be loyal. They do need help making the originals stand out as a marquis piece of their platform. Oh, and there’s the live TV.
Wall St. Analyst: Original slate is improving, but it needs to stop spending on last night’s television as linear TV viewership fades
PR exec: A legitimate, and seemingly resurgent, player in the space. Plenty to watch, clean and functional UI.
Amazon Prime Video
Wall St. analyst: Given the level of spending, surprising that Prime Video does not get more consumer attention
Agent: Great job with Reacher, even though it’s not very good. A lot of the rest of it feels stale. Jury out on Lord of the Rings
Agent: Reacher was a hit and super fun. But just an island on their thin, thin, thin schedule. They should just do book adaptations.
Wall St. analyst: Can’t remember the last time, I even thought about using the service. Lord of The Rings better be good.
PR exec: NFL probably makes them indispensable a year from now.
Reality producer: They have yet to prove to me that they know what they’re doing in the streaming world. Each show has been less memorable than the one before it. I wanted to put Peacock ahead of them, but the money they have stopped me — because they can be better (and Kids in the Hall!). It’s just a question of where and when they decide to get serious about the streaming game.
PR exec: Looking forward to seeing what they do with hobbits and halfbacks this fall.
Streaming analyst: As the US/Canada market hits a deep saturation point, and original series drive smaller incremental growth than original series in emerging markets, catalog content, and competitive pricing become key to sustainable growth and retention. It’s here that Paramount+ excels. There are still concerns about a struggling user interface that doesn’t generate strong, curated referral value for its films and shows once people are within the app. And Paramount+ needs a stronger hit rate. But the lower overhead cost compared to competitors, the catalog of content, and the connection to Paramount’s film side makes me pretty confident that Paramount+ will see sustainable success.
Reality TV producer: Maybe this one deserves the most improved service, because of their success with both the Yellowstone cinematic universe and the Real World: Homecoming reunion of the New Orleans cast, which didn’t disappoint on any level. And seeing how Paramount is finally acknowledging the brilliance of The Challenge, both on broadcast and on streaming, along with the Drag Race CMU — this finally feels like a reason to pay for the service.
PR exec: Can they merge with Peacock already and get it over with?
Agent: Paramount+ is actually punching above weight a bit. The Offer is odd and fun. Halo is big. And the new Star Trek is the one we have been waiting for.
PR exec: New Yellowstone spin-offs aside (which are ok) just simply doesn’t feel like a must service. Even Top Gun, which is having a moment, is also available on Amazon. The lack of an exclusive library is costing them.
Studio exec: It’s actually the only subscription that I don’t personally have access to, but between Star Trek and Taylor Sheridan, I think there is a large group that disagrees with my consumer choices.
Streaming analyst: When was the last time someone said to you, “Man, you’ve gotta watch this show on Peacock?”
PR exec: They keep taking swings. One is bound to truly cross over.
PR vet: Okay, I’ll admit it: the Housewives are what keep me coming back here. That’s pretty much it.
Wall St. analyst: Does it need to exist in the current form? Can they salvage a tie by merging it with someone else?
Agent: [NBCUniversal Content chief] Susan Rovner is great but they are not especially focused or well-funded or exciting to think about being in business with.
Producer: Original matters when you make me pay, so Peacock winds up at the bottom because there is so little original about it. Not enough quality to make this relationship stick.
PR exec: SNL being exclusive there will help and I hope they do another season of MacGruber. Also, they had to be higher than Paramount since they have Paramount’s Yellowstone.