The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards had barely finished before complaints about them started to appear: despite the diversity on show in the nominations, it was a depressingly limited slate of winners (on-screen, at least). The hosts seemed bored throughout the whole thing. The ratings were low. The wedding proposal was lame and awkward. As is the case seemingly every year, no one but the winners seemed entirely happy with what had happened, leading to a simple question: What is an Emmy actually worth, anyway?
A day after the ceremony, one answer to that question presented itself when Netflix’s stock rose 4.9 percent after the company took 23 awards throughout the night, putting it on par with HBO as the most successful broadcaster of the night. (Technically, Netflix has an edge in the draw; it had 112 nominations this year to HBO’s 108.) Similarly, Amazon — which took multiple gongs for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — also saw its stock jump 2.5 percent by mid-morning that day. The Emmys, it appears, can be good for business… at least while the buzz lasts.
The practical value of an Emmy win has long been a bone of contention for entertainment industry professionals and watchers. Just this week, the New York Post published a story called “Winning an Emmy doesn’t always mean ratings gold,” arguing that Emmy winners don’t necessarily see tangible monetary rewards in the same way that Academy Award winners can see bumps in the box-office returns. To an extent, that’s true, especially when you consider the ways in which people tend to pay for television. Even for shows that aren’t free-to-air or broadcast on a network included in basic cable bundles, the customer rarely pays for a show; instead, they pay for channels, or streaming services as a whole.
And looking at Apple TV’s store the day after the awards, the Emmys didn’t appear to have any noticeable effect. Beyond American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace and Killing Eve, the latter of which was nominated for Sandra Oh’s lead performance but didn’t win, the “Top TV Shows” category seemed entirely unchanged by the award winners the night before. Unless Last Man Standing was a stealth Emmys winner — all three seasons are in the Top TV Shows category, stunningly — it appears that Apple’s viewers weren’t watching the Emmys at all.
Many television executives doubt that there’s any financial benefit from an Emmy win in the long term. Kevin Reilly, president of TBS and TNT, told an audience at Variety’s 2017 Entertainment and Technology Summit that, although an Emmy nod can build a show’s reputation, “from a bottom-line business point of view,” there was no benefit.
The boost to reputation — of a show, an individual actor, a writer or director, or even a network or studio — appears to be the most consistent case people are willing to make when it comes to the Emmys’ potential impact. Many point to the fact that AMC’s Mad Men doubled its audience between its first and second season, putting the network on the map as a destination for serious drama, thanks to 15 nominations (and six wins) for its debut year. Except… the Emmys for that year were given out in the same week as the seventh episode of the show’s second season, after the ratings bump. It’s possible the nominations had an impact, but it’s just as likely it was the general acclaim the show had been steadily receiving at the time.
In fact, in 2010, former network executive Tim Brooks told The Hollywood Reporter, “Emmys don’t make much difference to an audience, unlike an Oscar or Tony which has been well documented to help the box office. TV viewers don’t care much about what awards you’ve earned.”
Is Reilly correct, then? Are the Emmys essentially worthless? “It’s lovely on the night, and it’s nice to be acknowledged, but beyond that I think it’s a mistake to think it’s going to change your career in some of kind of a big way,” The Simpsons’ Hank Azaria said in 2011. “Sometimes you can demand more money and get bigger roles, but it depends.” That’s hardly the most ringing endorsement. (In the same piece, Felicity Huffman added, “People take your calls a little easier [after a win]. People are a little more eager to meet you.” Well, at least an Emmy is good for the ego?)
The bloom may already be off the rose for Netflix; within hours of business opening on Wednesday — two days after the Emmys — its stock price was already falling again, suggesting that even 23 awards can’t maintain investor optimism in the face of Freaks and Geeks being removed from the service on October 1st.