Emmy nominations were released on Tuesday, and Netflix (NFLX -0.83%) took home a record number of nods, earning 160 nominations.
That was easily the best in the field, ahead of 107 for rival HBO (owned by AT&T (T 1.27%)), and Comcast's NBC, which came in third with 47.
This wasn't the first time Netflix topped the leaderboard in nominations. Netflix led in 2018 before yielding the top spot to HBO last year as Game of Thrones returned for its final season. However, Netflix's surge past HBO this year is the latest reminder of the streamer's dominance and upward trajectory, following its addition of more than 25 million new subscribers in the first half of the year.
Among individual shows, HBO's Watchmen was the biggest winner, scoring 26 nominations, while Amazon Prime's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel took second with 20 nominations. Netflix's Ozark was up for 18 awards, tied for third with HBO's Succession. Investors may not be surprised at this point that the streaming giant is breaking records at the Emmys, given its steady march higher over the years, but the achievement is still noteworthy.
Let's take a look at three takeaways from Netflix's record haul in Emmy nods.
1. Breadth counts more than hits
Critics have sometimes disparaged Netflix as a wasteland of content compared to HBO, which has a reputation for curating top-quality, often critically acclaimed, shows. Netflix's latest performance shows that even the critics have to admit that its strategy is paying off.
Unlike HBO, which sees itself as a premium service, Netflix's goal is to offer something for everyone, thereby casting the widest net possible to gather as many subscribers as it can. The upshot of that strategy has been steady subscriber growth, as well as increasing Emmy nominations, which have moved higher every year from 14 in 2013, the first year it was nominated.
The range of shows nominated for Best Comedy and Best Drama show why Netflix is head-and-shoulders above the competition. In Outstanding Drama, The Crown, a period piece about Queen Elizabeth II, Ozark, a dark thriller about a family gone rogue, and Stranger Things, a sci-fi series about a group of teenagers in the 1980s, all earned nominations. No other studio won more than one nomination in the categories, though Walt Disney-owned properties combined for two with Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale and Disney+'s The Mandalorian each earning a spot.
In the Outstanding Comedy category, Netflix's Dead to Me and The Kominsky Method both earned nominations, matching HBO, which also had two. Netflix scored two of the five spots with Unbelievable and Unorthodox in Outstanding Limited Series and four of the five nominations for Outstanding TV movie.
2. Netflix looks like the new HBO
HBO dominated the Emmy for years. Since the release of The Sopranos in the late 1990s, the premium cable network has been regarded as the paragon of television, and the network has almost always led in Emmy nominations and awards. Netflix's clear victory in nominations this year may signal a changing of the guard, however, and HBO's long reign is evidence that these transitions don't happen very often. Therefore, Netflix could easily be the awards leader over the next decade or even longer. Not only is the company currently outpacing its competitors by a wide margin, but all of the momentum seems to be on its side.
After adding more than 25 million new members in the first half of the year, Netflix is approaching 200 million subscribers worldwide. At a time when rivals like Disney, AT&T, and Comcast are just launching their own streaming platforms, that gives Netflix a significant advantage. Because Netflix has such a large subscriber base, it can spend much more on streaming content than its rivals, which will help sustain its leadership.
Its traditional media competitors are struggling to transition to a streaming-first world, reluctant to leave behind a highly profitable linear TV ecosystem, and that should allow Netflix to distance itself from its peers in the coming years.
3. There's still room for improvement
While Netflix dominated some categories, like Outstanding TV Movie and Outstanding Pre-Recorded Variety Special, it also got shut out of others like Outstanding Variety Talk and Outstanding Variety Sketch.
The Variety Talk category was dominated by late-night talk shows, which Netflix has historically avoided as it prefers content that doesn't age quickly, the way news and sports do. It's experimented with talk shows like Chelsea, starring comedian Chelsea Handler, but did not continue the show after the second season. At this point, it's unclear if Netflix will pursue such a format again, with new episodes released three times a week, much different from its usual binge-watching model. Still, that remains an opportunity for the company, much in the way that news and sports content, in some form, could play an increasing role. In recent years, Netflix has expanded into unscripted content like reality shows and competitions, showing that it's interested in pushing into new genres.
Can it convert?
Of course, 160 Emmy nominations don't mean much if the company can't bring home the hardware, and its performance at the awards show last year was disappointing. But the more nominations it has, the greater its odds are for winning the awards, and over the long term, success in nominations should translate into wins.
The Emmys are set for Sept. 20, and Netflix could be the star. A strong performance in the top categories would only cement the streamer's status as the industry leader.