In a few years, will tech companies dominate the Emmys?


Photos: Companies, iStock, Associated Press. Photo collage by Tobey – The Washington Post.

In a few years, will tech companies dominate the Emmys?

It’s a strong maybe. Here’s why:

1. More and more non-traditional companies are jumping into the television game.

So much of the conversation about television lately has been framed as Netflix versus HBO when, in reality, it’s about to become Netflix versus everybody.

That’s not a coincidence. Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarndos, famously told GQ, “The goal is to become HBO faster that HBO can become us.” Well, now there’s a host of companies looking to become Netflix.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sony would begin creating television shows for its PlayStation console. Hey, it’s got to give its users something to do if they can’t play Titanfall, right?

Sony is developing a supernatural drama called “Powers,” which will be available on its PlayStation Network, the same network that supports online multiplayer gaming and currently boasts about 30 million users. It’s a natural fit; the company has its own entertainment wing, Sony Pictures Television, which is responsible for producing “Jeopardy,” Wheel of Fortune,” and the AMC hit “Breaking Bad,” would be able to directly target its base of gamers and tailor shows to their tastes.

Microsoft has headed in a similar direction. Sony’s gaming rival hired Nancy Tellem, formerly the head of CBS entertainment, to helm its entertainment and digital media division. Her first big get was blockbuster director Steven Spielberg, who is executive producing a “Halo” show for the company. Spielberg was an executive producer of “United States of Tara.” Tellem told the Hollywood Reporter that Microsoft has a network of 76 million consoles, which it expects to grow to 100 million.

But Microsoft and Sony are the new kids with veteran talent when it comes to developing shows and are chasing Netflix’s model: hire people who have experience producing good television, add a readily accessible platform and built-in audience, then wait for money and critical acclaim.

Amazon, which stepped into the game with “Alpha House,” is aiming directly at Netflix with its new lineup of shows, too. So is Yahoo, which hired Dawn Airey, a former UK television executive. (Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)

“When it comes to original content, one of my observations of the business is we have to do a few more emblematic big things that really stand out,” Airey told the Guardian. “If you look at what Netflix did with House of Cards [it was] very, very, very clever.”

Then there’s Hulu Plus, with more than four million subscribers, which offers access to shows that are currently on television, plus its own original programming.

2. The work they’re producing is actually good.

We are not in the early aughts anymore. Remember when television was awash in cheap-to-produce reality shows and we all thought scripted television was going the way of the dodo? Well, that’s passed. Reality programming still rules the roost on some cable networks – it basically propelled Andy Cohen to his current position as Lord on High of Bravo and a cameo in Lady Gaga’s latest music video – but scripted programming is having its moment. Said the New York Times’ David Carr:

The vast wasteland of television has been replaced by an excess of excellence that is fundamentally altering my media diet and threatening to consume my waking life in the process. I am not alone. Even as alternatives proliferate and people cut the cord, they are continuing to spend ever more time in front of the TV without a trace of embarrassment.

After opening with the political comedy “Alpha House,” Amazon is following with “Transparent,” along with three other pilots it picked up. Slate’s Willa Paskin called the Jeffrey Tambor vehicle Amazon’s “House of Cards.” “Transparent” is about a man who is transitioning from male to female late in life after his children are have grown up and he’s divorced from his wife. “House of Cards” netted Netflix nine Emmy nominations, including three wins.

The key then, isn’t just presenting more of the same, but shows that feel “exactly like one of those HBO shows with a 1-to-1 ratio of viewers to think pieces,” Paskin said.

It looks like Netflix’s newest show is shooting for that, too: Netflix recently announced a new series with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin that sounds like “9 to 5″ meets “First Wives Club” called “Grace and Frankie” that will be available for streaming next year.

3. People want to be able to watch what they want, when they want, on the device they choose.

Next month, Amazon will begin shipping a dongle that resembles Google’s Chromecast, something that allows you to cast shows, music, and other content from your phone or tablet to your television. Amazon’s dongle is also rumored to double as a gaming console. It’s another blow, along with Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, Wii, Playstation, and even smart blu-ray players, to the old way of consuming television. Cable and internet provider Comcast has steadied itself for the blow by offering priority to Apple TV when it comes to internet traffic.

Legacy companies are still struggling to to adapt to the new world of multiple platforms: Warner Bros. ended up refunding “Veronica Mars” backers who balked at watching the film on Flixster (which Warner Bros. owns) and paid for a digital download of the film on iTunes or Amazon.

HBO excels at quality programming. Tech companies excel at delivering it, and that’s exactly what Sarndos was talking about when he said Netflix should become HBO before the opposite happens. To HBO’s credit, it’s the only cable network that currently allows users to stream its shows through Google’s ChromeCast dongle (you can also stream Netflix through Chromecast). But that option is only as good as the infrastructure that supports it, as HBO found with its “True Detective” finale.

For all the good tech companies may do for content, it may not be so good for our health. Bring on the quality content; we’re all going to die of sitting too much and binge watching shows. Perhaps the next step is media companies offering hazard pay for television critics.

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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