HBO dominated Sunday’s Emmy awards, reinforcing the network’s long-held position as television’s creative powerhouse even as Netflix has upended the industry.
The AT&T-owned network won 30 Emmy awards, including the coveted Best Drama Series category for Succession and Best Limited Series for Watchmen, in an event held virtually and without a live audience for the first time ever due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the end last year of Game of Thrones and an exodus of executives including longtime chief Richard Plepler, observers had questioned whether HBO under new ownership could continue to churn out top shows.
That question was answered as the critically acclaimed programmes Watchmen and Succession each won four awards, helping HBO nab more trophies than any other network for the second year in a row.
HBO faced stiff competition from Netflix, which had scored a record 160 nominations this year for TV’s highest honours. The pair have duelled in the past few years, leading the pack in nominations and setting up a battle of HBO’s careful curation versus Netflix’s volume of programming.
In Hollywood, the Emmys have a commercial impact because winning awards enhances a studio’s standing with top talent. Reed Hastings, Netflix chief executive, told investors earlier this year that there was a “business benefit” to winning awards because it helped “win deals that we couldn’t have otherwise won”.
Coming in third in terms of awards was Pop TV, the Viacom-owned TV channel that airs Schitt’s Creek, a Canadian comedy that garnered broad popularity after Netflix picked up old seasons of it in 2017. The series won seven awards on Sunday, sweeping the comedy categories.
This year’s ceremony was constrained by the pandemic. Instead of lavish red carpets and hundreds of stars packed into a room together, Jimmy Kimmel hosted from a largely empty Staples Center in Los Angeles while nominees appeared via video links from their preferred locations around the globe.
The ceremony took place weeks ahead of a crucial US presidential election against a backdrop of nearly 200,000 American deaths due to the coronavirus crisis, a crippling economic recession and historic uprisings over racial inequality.
These tensions were evident during the programme, with several winners urging viewers to vote and host Jimmy Kimmel joking that the show was being filmed without a live studio audience because “this isn’t a MAGA rally”.
Analysts have questioned whether HBO, which has made a name for itself as a producer of selective, high-quality series, can transform into a broader Netflix-style service as streamers flood the market with new shows.
While HBO has continued to prosper creatively, its owner WarnerMedia has failed to gain much traction with efforts to compete directly with Netflix.
WarnerMedia this year launched a new streaming service, HBO Max, which packages HBO’s programming with that of the Warner Bros studio and the Turner networks for $15 a month.
Take-up has been relatively modest since the launch in May: although more than 23m existing HBO subscribers can access the HBO Max service for free, but the company said that as of July only around 4m users had activated the streaming platform.
By comparison Netflix added 10m subscribers in the second quarter, taking its number of global subscribers to close to 200m.