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Who Benefits If the Emmy's Split the TV Movie/Mini-Series Category?

By Brett Gold – Jan 18, 2014 at 8:42AM

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A proposed split by Emmy voters of the Made For TV Movie/Mini-Series category could mean a big windfall for many networks as they all try to find a way to one up perennial winner HBO recently was the first to report that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences were considering separating the Emmy award for "Outstanding Made for TV Movie/Mini-Series" back into two categories. The unification of the categories came in 2011 following two consecutive years with just two qualifying nominees.

However in the years since, television has embraced the short form/mini-series concept, thanks in large part to the success of History Channel's Hatfields & McCoys and FX's American Horror Story. As a result, networks have ramped up mini-series production to a new and exciting level, causing the category to balloon with a number of worthwhile contenders.

Should the Academy decide to go through with its idea, it could prove to be a financial windfall for a number of media companies who all of sudden will have another viable way to score TV's top prize.


Since 1993, HBO (a subsidiary of Time Warner (TWX)) has owned the "Made For TV Movie" category. In fact, you can count the number of times they've lost the award on one hand. It eventually even became a question of which HBO film would win, especially in 2001 when the network had four of the five nominated movies! Now with the categories merged, HBO has won two of the three years, with their lone defeat coming at the hands of smash hit Downton Abbey (which then switched over to the "Drama" field soon after).

"True Detective" airs on HBO. (Credit: HBO)

Impact on network: This would be a case of the rich getting richer!  Adding the extra category could net HBO even more hardware and prestige, not to mention subscribers.

Last week the network launched anthology series True Detective, which like FX's American Horror Story, is a project where every season is a self-contained story. With that factor in place, the critically acclaimed Detective qualifies as a mini-series and thus should be eligible to compete as one.

If the category switch happens, that would position HBO as a frontrunner in both categories as its upcoming adaptation of The Normal Heart is already expected to run the table at this year's awards. Other networks would love to get their mini-series out of the way of that movie.

HBO already blows away the competition with its quality programming and adding an anthology mini-series to its roster with big names (such as Detective's Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) will only help add more subscribers. Even with Showtime finally coming into its own as premium source of strong original content, HBO is still widely seen as the frontrunner in its field. Owning both categories would put it even further ahead in the mind of viewers and analysts.


FX (a subsidiary of Newscorp (NWS -0.65%)) also has a lot to gain if the Academy moves forward with its plans. Until now its popular American Horror Story franchise has been nominated for 34 Emmy awards (17 for each season), but both times was defeated for the top prize by a HBO powerhouse made-for-TV movie -- Game Change or Behind The Candelabra. The change would allow this season's entry, American Horror Story: Coven, a real chance to come out on top.

"American Horror Story: Coven" airs on FX. (Credit: FX)

FX also is set to debut its TV series adaptation of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's Oscar-winning movie Fargo this April, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman. Like Horror, this would be an anthology series and presumed eligible.

Impact on network: FX has helped pioneer the mini-series craze and it has invested a lot of time and money into its success. If the Academy makes the change, it would affect FX the most. Going up against one of HBO's renowned made-for-TV movies often seems like a Herculean task. The move would even the odds a little.

Remember, unlike HBO, which utilizes a subscription format to make money, FX relies more heavily on ratings and Horror has helped in that category. The series has been one of TV's most refreshing projects and that has translated into more viewers and, in turn, higher costs for advertisers. Taking home that top prize would boost its potential revenue and continue to add to its roster of top original programming.

Broadcast Networks

While cable will see the biggest bounce, you can't count out the broadcast networks. All of the Big Four (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) have recently committed to the new mini-series craze and each could present a challenge to the crown. Like FX, the broadcast networks depend on ratings, especially in the all-important 18-49 demographic, which have seen a positive response to mini-series events.

Impact on networks: In the short term, the network that would be most affected by the move is Fox. This would be a big deal for the company as it had made it a point to bring back "event TV" and make it a large part of its business model for 2014. In fact, it actually has three event mini-series lined up for this summer, including Gracepoint, the U.S. adaptation of the hit BBC series Broadchurch, as well as M. Night Shyamalan's Wayward Pines, and of course the return of Kiefer Sutherland's powerhouse 24 franchise.

All three would be considered contenders should the categories split as the network is banking on them to help with summer sweeps periods. With the ability to compete in a separate category, Fox would likely increase their marketing and promotional efforts as it presents them with a real opportunity to break out from their competition and boost both their ratings and revenue.

Overall it looks highly likely the Academy will vote to go through with the separation (as early as this year), which would be welcomed by seemingly all parties, including viewers. Audiences have really responded to this format and they would probably see this change as a sign the Academy is listening to them, which in turn drives attention back to the programming on the contending networks.

However, it's important to note this only applies to the overall "Made-for-TV Movie/Mini-Series" category; the categories honoring the actors in those productions would stay merged ... after all it's already a three-hour award show as it is!

Fool contributor Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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