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

jay leno's garage

On the surface, the world of web content had a great day on Thursday, thanks to Netflix — 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, 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 TheWB.com 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.

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