The Emmys and Network Television are on Life Support


On the Monday after the Emmys, I decided to catch up on everything I missed (by everything missed I mean the entire award ceremony). When I scroll through my timeline I see a number of encouraging moments: Jason Sudekis winning “Best Actor in a Comedy” for Ted Lasso, Michela Coel’s inspiring speech about staying in silence and seeing what happens, and Debbie Allen’s long overdue lifetime achievement Emmy.  Then it occurred to me I had conducted a wrap-up of a 3 hour Emmy show within five minutes from crowdsourced memes, videos, and images.  We are in a completely different era from the early 2000s when I thought award shows like this were essential to anyone who called themself a TV show fan.  

But the Emmys wasn’t the only thing showing its age and its upcoming demise. The institution of network TV was also sitting right there in an accompanying casket, it’s funeral that was aired on the Emmys. We have all heard the narrative for years: “streaming services are replacing network TV”, “Terrestrial TV is dead”, “the age of the cord cutter is here” ( all of which were titles from articles from the last five years) but now we are transitioning from seeing streaming services coming from the horizon to full-fledged taking the food off the plates of network television.  Netflix alone accounted for an astonishing 44 Emmy wins compared to their 2020 total of four.  But it was not only Netflix that came away big for the streaming services, but also Disney Plus, who came home with 14 Emmy wins for shows such as The Mandalorian and the aesthetic barrier smashing WandaVision.  I believe this trend is going to keep multiplying year after year as more customers sign up for these streaming services and the amount of customer data that these streaming platforms expand as well. 

Customer data in regards to TV shows is sometimes the elephant in the room most critics do not talk about in reference to the streaming vs network TV wars, but it’s so essential and plays such a huge role.  Netflix for example uses customers watching data to scale up specific shows in genres that are tailored made for certain segments of their audience.  Does network TV have its own data capture process as well? Yes, they do but it’s not as direct and easy to capture as a service like Netflix.  While network TV usually uses Nielsen and their own rating metrics, it can sometimes be an imperfect science because of the nature of watching regular TV networks. While watching on a network like Netflix, the data capturing is already built into that software.  Also, Netflix has a huge advantage over network TV in that they do not have to cater to advertisers. Of course, for Netflix, this is a lack of revenue but it is more of an advantage for the actual creators on this platform because they do not have to succumb to the trends, tendencies, and products of these advertisers.  This makes the Netflix platform more appealing because they don’t have to succumb to the pressures and challenges that come with working with advertisements the same way that *cough cough* NBC does with GE.

Then there is the transfer of power in terms of superstar writers from network to streaming.  Since around 2017  Netflix and other streaming services have made a concerted effort to really lure superstar writers like Ryan Murphy and Kenya Barris with commanding eight-figure deals.  Then there is the story that has become TV industry lore of the highly acclaimed writer- Shonda Rhimes was denied Disneyworld passes from a TV executive at ABC and took it as a sign of disrespect and took her talents to Netflix in a nine-figure deal and created one of their most popular series ever, Bridgerton.  The influx of capital into these streaming platforms has allowed them to poach even new staff writing talent away from network TV stations as well.  But this expansion of writing jobs has created issues with work schedules and salaries for experienced staff TV writers according to a New York Times article. As we think of the collective TV world and this concept of peak TV, a huge piece of this puzzle is the streaming platforms. It allows for flexibility when it comes to language and more mature themes that would never be used on network television.  Then there is the influx of international programming that would never be seen. When we think about the premiere TV properties in the TV universe we think about Ozark, Ted Lasso, and The Boys, not the eighth iteration of CSI.  While network TV for the longest time was what the TV world revolved around, it seems like that orbit is changing in favor of the streaming platforms now.