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When it comes to digital content, are the Emmys broken? Or just painfully behind?

On the surface, the world of web content had a great day on Thursday, thanks to Netflix (s NFLX) — the Emmy Awards announced that the digital platform received a total of 12 nominations for its original series (nine for House of Cards, three for Arrested Development Season 4).

The news is of course potentially groundbreaking, signaling a real change for the perception of digital distribution within the mainstream studio system.

Not only is this the second year in a row where a drama series from one of the major broadcast networks failed to be nominated, but House of Cards will be competing for best drama series alongside established players like Downton Abbey and Breaking Bad.

However, dig a little deeper, and there is much disappointment to be found in the nominations — specifically, in the categories that have always at least tangentially been open to independent web content.

While their names have a tendency to vary on a yearly basis, categories such as “Outstanding Special Class – Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs” and “Outstanding Interactive Program” have given projects like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog and Star Wars Uncut greater recognition.

Well, Dr. Horrible might not have really needed the greater recognition — but its nomination did help then-host Neil Patrick Harris and others make in-character cameos during the 2009 Emmys broadcast (and share some opinions about traditional versus digital programming that, four years later, prove interesting).

Looking at this year’s nominees, there were technically a few victories in the nominations for web-original content, such as Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, the improvised interview series which brings Seinfeld’s famous friends to Sony’s Crackle (s SNE), and Zach Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns, the improvised interview series which brings Galifianakis’s famous friends to the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay-founded Funny or Die.

(There might be a pattern here.)

While Comedians in Cars is categorized as non-fiction, Between Two Ferns is competing in the Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs category. One of its competitors is Burning Love, the Yahoo series produced by Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Productions and starring a huge cast of well-known talented comedians including Ken Marino, Paul Scheer, Michael Ian Black, Kumail Nanjiani, Natasha Leggero, Malin Ackerman, Nick Kroll and Michael Cera.

These shows also face off against the equally star-studded Childrens Hospital, which originated as a web series on (s WB) before transferring to Adult Swim.

The unifying factor here? Big names and funny people brought to you by digital platforms established by major networks and studios.

The closest anything originating on YouTube got to breaking through the nominations? Machinima’s Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn received a nomination for Main Title Design, competing against American Horror Story and The Newsroom, among other shows.

Filling in all the gaps here are the same series that caused networks to coin the term “webisode” — supplementary content created for the web by shows like 30 Rock and Top Chef, as well as this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show.

The clearest sign how far behind the times the Emmys might be: Almost every nominee for the Outstanding Interactive Program category was for a second-screen experience (the one exception being an interactive website for National Geographic’s Killing Lincoln). And as Janko says, the second-screen experience is old news.

It’s 2013, and the year prior included no shortage of innovative content that challenged the concept of entertainment in the digital age. The voting body behind the Emmys has the opportunity to support this evolution. They’ve done it before.

But this year, instead, they nominated the web series about Jay Leno’s cars. For the fifth time.

Image via Jay Leno’s Garage.

7 Responses to “When it comes to digital content, are the Emmys broken? Or just painfully behind?”

  1. The 2 shows that were nominated (and will win something when their sponsors realize the angle) are HUGE budget productions. Anything with Kevin Spacey I imagine, starts at high 6 figs and goes up from there,the same with A.D.
    These are “seed” episodes, personally I think The Newsroom should have been started on Netflix considering the toxic nature of the program. (toxic by fictionalized retelling of actual events from a Sorkinistic Manafest) Troubling because while it’s fiction, you remember the episode, Goebels salivates from beyond.

    • luckylu

      “Easy Abby” web series…we’re like the BBC of the Midwest! Great cast nobody knows, original writing voice, and honest sexual situations without the overdone graphic nudity or violence…is what.

  2. gregm91436

    onmedia: Netflix deliberately submitted “House of Cards” for Emmy consideration and were approved to do so. I actually think the fact that Netflix can compete toe-to-toe with broadcst and cable networks in the big categories is a great thing for the internet–it makes it easier for any high-profile internet network (I wouldn’t be surprised to see hulu and amazon crash the nominations in the next five years), which in turn makes it easier for smaller companies to get noticed. It took HBO and basic cable over a decade apiece to get legitimacy for the Emmys.

    Liz, this is a very good article. There are some great non-celebrity webseries out there (“The Lizzie Diaires,” “Untitled Webseries about a Man Who Travels Through Time…” and hulu’s “The Booth at the End”) that I hope get greater exposure.

  3. Greg Machlin

    Very good points, Liz. There’s some great web series work out there that’s getting ignored by the Emmys (The Lizzie Diaries, Untitled Webseries about a Man Who Travels Through Time…). I thought “The Booth at the End” s1 was fantastic, and that could definitely have been classified as short form, with its 2-3 minute episodes.

  4. onmedea

    I think the Emmys are an absolute joke. Spot on with your article. The biggest problem I have is that “House of Cards” is not a television series. It is a web series and how the heck did the TV Academy suddenly get oversight of content produced for the internet? You can’t just claim the internet for yourself and start giving awards to content that features people who have been on television. It’s all very strange and backroom-ish.

  5. vandalu

    Thanks for spot-on article…when a quality original smart series like Easy Abby (made in Chicago)gets 10 Million views but no nominations because it doesn’t have anyone famous or any studio marketing $$, it’s proof that it’s the same old money/gatekeeper game, to the detriment of a culture very ready for new funny alternative voices/characters.