Digital producers cheered last year when the Television Academy expanded its short-form programming categories. But then they saw the nominees and winners.
Most of last year’s short form contenders didn’t come from digital-first producers or platforms, but came from traditional networks and talent. Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital” led all nominees, followed by the History channel’s “The Crossroads of History” and AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462.”
“Childrens Hospital” ultimately won the Outstanding Series category, which included just one independent contender: “Her Story,” about two transgender women living in Los Angeles. Besides “Crossroads of History” and “Flight 462,” the two other nominees were behind-the-scenes looks at popular TV shows: “Hack into Broad City” and “UnREAL The Auditions.”
In the short form nonfiction or reality series, another marketing series won, FX’s “Inside Look: The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
That wasn’t quite what the Academy hoped for when digital studios campaigned to expand the categories. “It’ll be great to see someone like [YouTube star] Tyler Oakley win an Emmy,” Brian Robbins then the CEO of AwesomenessTV, told Variety last year.
But with content on platforms like YouTube Red still mostly shut out, that ultimately left a bad taste in the mouth of the rapidly growing short-form digital production community. Moving to multiple categories was a big win for that world, but they have a way to go.
“I was a little bummed to see that most of the winners ended up being ancillary content from existing IP or TV shows,” said New Form CEO Kathleen Grace. “I do think we need some education and communication around what a digital short form series is.”
New Form is a studio behind 17 series found on mobile, OTT and on-demand platforms such as the YouTube Red romantic comedy “Single By 30,” starring Harry Shum Jr. (“Glee”) and Go90’s high school comedy “Mr. Student Body President.”
There’s no shortage of digital studios making waves: Judy McGrath’s Astronauts Wanted has the talk show “Tawk with Awkwafina” competing in the short form variety series category, and “H8ters” in the short-form comedy category, among others. AwesomenessTV produces the Go90 thriller “T@gged.” Rooster Teeth’s large stable of offerings includes the apocalyptic drama “Day 5.” And that’s just a brief sampling of the hundreds of eligible shorts.
“Awards are great for marketing,” said Kulap Vilaysack, whose “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$” was produced for Seeso.
Young-skewing linear networks like Freeform (“My Boyfriend is a Robot”) and The CW’s CW Seed (“I Ship It”) have also gotten into the game.
“You’re going to see linear TV brands are eventually going to have to adapt and be more digital and therefore theyre going to have variable length content and suddenly they’re going to really care about short form,” Grace said. “They need to do that to drive traffic to their OTT platforms that they’re going to need to build because this audience is not going to wake up one day and start watching television linearly. Sorry, guys.”
But right now, Grace said digital producers looking to getting noticed by Emmy voters are still hampered by the fact that the TV Academy is still mostly an older demographic.
“They don’t know the stuff,” she said. “They don’t know that these series stand on their own and they’re not just add-ons and they’re not just derivative. The majority of voting members are not in the demo that consumes a bunch of Snapchat, or not in a demo that is embracing YouTube Red or Go90 as viewing platforms. They are not necessarily in the demo that is watching a ton of content on their phone.”
Grace is part of a new digital committee set up to build education and awareness about digital producers and series.
“As someone who has been in the world of digital for a very long time I do sometimes get impatient that I’m still explaining to people that the internet exists and people are watching content on it,” she said. “But at the same time, the world changes so fast and slow and I’m willing to ride that wave because ultimately this is where the audience is.”
Grace said she hasn’t seen much campaigning by digital producers this year, and that could be because they may have been discouraged by last year’s results.
“I think they’re sitting back this year and seeing what’s going to happen,” she said. “It felt challenging given the resources we have in digital to fight against ‘The Walking Dead.'”
But it’s also a financial concern: “It costs just as much to put an hour-long pilot on the Emmy For Your Consideration website as it does to put up 10 minutes,” she said. “The 10-minute show certainly didn’t have the same budget that an hour-long drama did.”
That may be why reaction appears to be mixed with producers regarding the Emmys. While many say they’re submitting, College Humor’s Spencer Griffin is less bowled over.
“We have a giant comical prop trash can in our office that’s called the awards trash can, where we put a lot of our awards,” he said. “Because we’ve been a website since 1999 and there are so many awards you can get. With the Streamys and the Webbys and the [he jokes] Awardees. I can’t imagine any one is in it for the awards.”
Separately, the TV Academy this year added more interactive categories, expanding to Outstanding Interactive Program; Outstanding Original Interactive Program; Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media Within a Scripted Program; and Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media Within an Unscripted Program. Most entrants are digital extensions of TV shows, although Turner’s Super Deluxe will compete with its series “Live Telenovela.”
“This project we’re pushing and the stuff we’re doing in general, I’m not surprised the categories are different because the type of work we’re doing didn’t exist a year ago,” said Super Deluxe executive producer Cyrus Ghahremani. “It’s reassuring to see that [the Emmys] are evolving in the same way that we and the medium is.”