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Why the Emmys Matter More Every Year, Within the Industry and Beyond

A new report shows young audiences care more about the Emmys than older viewers, indicating a rising value in the TV Academy's attention.

Jill Soloway and Jeffrey Tambor, 68th Primetime Emmys

Stephen Lovekin/REX/Shutterstock

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Much has been made about the lengthy, costly, and expanding number of Emmy campaigns every year. The fight for TV’s most coveted statuette is intensifying, and a new report suggests what we’ve seen may only be the beginning.

A recent poll conducted by Morning Consult asked a nationally representative sample of TV viewers, “How much do each of the following factors influence your decision to watch a show?” Factors polled were actors and actresses in the series, recommendations from friends and family, critics’ reviews, Emmy nominations, and Emmy wins.

Unsurprisingly, the stars and personal recommendations topped the influencers. In comparison, critics’ opinions and the Emmys were less important.

But what matters more than the overall numbers (which you can see here) is the difference of opinion between age demographics. Young and old agree on the stars’ powerful influence, but there’s a notable increase in respect for what deems a series “prestige TV”: critics and the Emmys.

Forty-two percent of people between 18-29 years old said critics’ reviews matter to them, compared to just 22 percent of those between 45-54 years old. Thirty-two percent of the younger demographic factored in Emmy nominations when deciding what to watch, compared to just 17 percent of the older group.

That indicates the Emmys matter more to younger audiences. So as the years progress, the value of an Emmy will increase as it becomes more and more influential on viewership.

There are a number of factors that can explain why, and they all relate back to common sense. For one, younger viewers are more prone to look up ratings for everything: From restaurants to dating apps, the millennial generation knows how to quickly seek out the “best” use of their time. So it makes sense they would look to critics’ reviews and Emmy nominations, both widely available online, to judge the best shows to watch.

There’s also more TV to consider than ever before, which necessitates a filtering process. Older audiences may be content to flip channels, trying out shows they can DVR or finding their favorite actors and actresses in the onscreen guide, just as they’re happy to take recommendations from friends and family. But younger audiences (who may not have cable or satellite subscriptions) are adept at seeking out content online. They’re flipping between Netflix and Hulu or HBO and YouTube, and they need to know what they can watch as well as the best thing to watch.

And they need it fast. It’s easy to look up a Metacritic score before investing in a 10-hour binge, and it’s just as simple to check how many Emmy nominations a show has on Emmys.com or IMDB.

The Emmys could also be more important to younger viewers because they’re only familiar with television as an artistic equivalent to film. Eighteen-year-olds have only lived in a world where shows like “The West Wing,” “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” and “Breaking Bad” are dominant Emmy winners. These series are widely considered to be on equal footing to Oscar winners of the same era. (And let’s face it: They’re all better than “Crash.”) As long as the Emmys are the predominant television awards show, these viewers could equate their importance to that of the Oscars (whereas older viewers hold the Film Academy in higher regard because, historically, it has been).

All this is to say that the impact of the Emmys is higher than ever. All networks covet young viewers, either to sell more costly ad space or grow and sustain their subscription base. Even if the Emmys never surpass star power and friendly recommendations, their increasing influence on viewership will make the competition for nominations fiercer every year, as shows look for any opportunity they can get to stand out in a crowded market.

And we say nominations because that’s all that seems to matter. Winners will get more attention, to be sure, but the poll showed a statistically irrelevant discrepancy between shows that earned nominations and shows that won Emmys.

That means this year’s group has already won, just by being there.

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