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Emmy’s Streaming War: Netflix Tops Noms, ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Helps Hulu Stay Strong

It’s the year the dam finally burst for television’s marquee streaming services in terms of Emmy nominations.

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon netted a combined 161 noms from the Television Academy. It’s also the first year that one of the content providers grabbed the top bragging rights, with Netflix’s cumulative 112 nominations besting the 108 of HBO, which has long beenthe leader.

The guard-change appears to be the latest signal of a significant paradigm shift in TV’s awards landscape: just as the premium cable networks eclipsed broadcast fare in the volume of trophies and nominations a couple of decades ago, the major streamers are now leading the pack in terms of recognition of their prestige programming, with a slew of new contenders — Apple, YouTube and Facebook among them — waiting in the wings.

“Creatively, we want to make the best shows and put out the best programming for our members. We compete for those shows with a lot of different players. That competition is great for viewers and great for producers. From an economic standpoint, it’s probably the best time in the history of television to be a producer,” says Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix.

Last year saw a huge game-changer when Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” claimed the drama series Emmy, the first to go to a streaming series in that category. (The show picked up a total of eight trophies overall.) This year the show delivered 20 of Hulu’s 27 nominations.

“I think the success for us this year is not measured by the number as much as it’s measured by the breadth of shows that were recognized,” says Craig Erwich, Hulu’s senior vice president of originals, noting that the additional noms for the service’s “The Looming Tower,” “‘I Love You, America” and “March of the Penguins” “really validates the path we’re on.”

While the first step on the path to Emmy glory is, of course, the creation of top-quality content, Erwich says marketing and promoting that content — particularly to the tastemakers comprising the Emmy voting pool — is equally vital.

“The same formula that applies to making the shows great applies to making the marketing great, which are resources and creativity,” he says, pointing to highly specific campaigns that leveraged the global politics of “The Looming Tower” and the savvy digital audience of “I Love You, America” as examples.

Grabbing its cache of nominations is only part of the goal, though it is important for streamers still trying to lure the biggest names to their platforms.

“Leading in Emmy nominations helps attract talent to the network. When people do the work of their lives, they want to know they’ll be recognized for it,” Sarandos says.

As an executive producer and frequent director of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” Shawn Levy agrees that the wealth of Emmy recognition — including a dozen noms for the supernatural series — validates the decision to be in business with that particular streaming service.

“This is really an acknowledgement of the incredible creative culture that Netflix has built,” says Levy. “We bust our a– to make ‘Stranger Things’ great, but Netflix busts [its] a– to spread the word with a quality and level of cool that [show creators] the Duffers and I dream of, so it’s like the messaging of ‘Stranger Things’ feels consistent with the making of ‘Stranger Things,’ and that feels really good.”

The biggest signal of the faith Levy has in the streamer, he says, is that he built his future TV business there. With his company 21 Laps Entertainment, Levy will be developing projects exclusively with the streamer for the next few years.

But Emmys are a multi-phase campaign, and a key part of the endgame is claiming prestigious trophies, too.

Amazon made early strides in cracking streaming’s glass ceiling at the Emmys, topping Netflix’s wins in 2015 with five trophies out of 12 nominations, thanks in large part to its breakout series “Transparent.” But its fortunes remained flat the following two years, as it nabbed 16 overall nominations each year, and only six trophies in 2016 and two in 2017. This year, Amazon surged again — despite “Transparent” being left out of the conversation — with 22 nominations, 14 of which went to its freshman sensation “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Representatives for Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.

This increasingly competitive new era of streaming dominance at the Emmys is “inspiring” for many.

“It just shows you where the bar of excellence is, and that allows you and forces you to take greater and bolder creative chances,” Erwich says. “It means that the state of content is strong. You have multiple participants doing outstanding work, and then when you look at shows that maybe even didn’t get nominated, but are still excellent in and of themselves, it just shows you what the quality of our business is producing.”

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this story.

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