Like two boxers slowly circling each other at the start of a bout, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the broadcast networks are getting ready to go toe-to-toe over a new contract for the Emmy Awards.
Under the old deal, which expired after NBC's August telecast, the show rotated among CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox. The license fee for the Emmys hit $7.5 million a year at the end of the eight-year contract. That does not include the millions the networks spend on production and promotion for the show.
Money may be the least of the issues dividing the networks and the TV academy this time around. Other points of contention have to do with the format of the show and online rights. There have been some initial talks, but negotiatons are not likely to get serious for a few more weeks.
The networks naturally don't want to see the price tag go up. Although live programming is viewed as very valuable now by the networks, the Emmy Awards show has not cracked more than 15 million viewers since 2006, and it's been more than 10 years since it had an audience bigger than 20 million, according to Nielsen.
While the networks are trying to avoid coughing up more dough they do want more from the academy in the next deal, including online rights for content including red-carpet ceremonies and behind-the-scenes material. Naturally, the academy wants some of these rights too. Another issue is whether the network that airs the Emmys in a given year should also get the digital rights, or should those rights be shared equally among the partners, regardless of which one is broadcasting the program.
Then there are the awards themselves. The broadcast networks are constantly griping that too much of the show is dedicated to movies and miniseries, two categories that are usually dominated by HBO and other cable networks. HBO and the people who make cable movies counter that they should not be punished for excelling in a business that the broadcast networks have abandoned. The most radical suggestion is to move those categories to a separate show.
Such a move might take a lot of star power from the room because HBO gets big names for its movies and miniseries.
Of course, cable doesn't shine only in long-form programming. Dramas such as AMC's "Mad Men" have cleaned up at the Emmys. Even Edie Falco, star of Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" took home an Emmy for best comedy actress, much to her surprise.
The talks don't involve just the networks and the TV academy. Any big changes to the awards show itself will need input from the various guilds. Although some network sources are optimistic that a new TV deal could be in place in a few weeks, those on the other side think it could be as long as two months until an agreement is in place.
The 2010-2011 Emmy Awards are currently scheduled for Sept. 18 and Fox is the likely home since it is up next in the rotation. That may seem like a long way off, but given the amount of time needed for marketing and production, it really isn't.
For now, it doesn't appear that a cable network is going to step up and try to snag the awards show for itself. Last time the deal was up the academy was able to leverage a better contract because HBO had made a run for the show.
Fox, NBC and ABC all own cable channels that could potentially house the Emmys, but the risk there is that expanding the number of homes for the show could further dilute its popularity.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey dancing in the dark during last August's Emmy Awards. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times