The end is in sight. After a long and very expensive Emmy campaign season, online polls opened today for final voting. Pete Hammond badgeBallots must be in by 10 PM PT on Friday, August 28. As I have noted before, there is no paper ballot option. It’s all online, and today marks a bit of a historic turn for the Television Academy as this is the first time voting in the finals is open to everyone in the Academy who was eligible to vote in the nominating rounds. Blue-ribbon panel with much, much smaller numbers of members making the all-important choices, formerly the standard for final voting in several past decades, are now gone with the win right along with the paper ballots and DVD screeners of the nominated shows and episodes.

As I also noted previously, the TV Academy made a deal with Google that sent its Chromecast device to every one of the 18,000-plus eligible voters so that the nominees could be viewed on members’ big-screen TVs, rather than computers or other devices (though that is still an option, of course). I was skeptical about how manychromecast members, particularly technology-challenged ones like me, would be able to figure out how to hook up the Chromecast, but it seems to have been accepted fairly easily as a way to watch the shows on the Academy’s Emmy Nominees Viewing Platform, another new innovation for this year’s changing Emmy landscape. I had my TV guy Carlos come out and help me set this up , as my original Chromecast didn’t seem to work properly. It turns out it was something to do with my laptop. He charged me $125 for that. The quality of the picture still wasn’t up to HD standards of my Panasonic set, but yesterday my IT guy Lonny came out and used an HDMI connection between TV and laptop that solved the problem, so I am actually not using the Chromecast at all now and the picture is great. I’m sure I will be getting a bill  for that soon too. Emmy season is getting costly for me. Lonny did point out, though, that not every computer has the right connections for HDMI wiring, so that’s where the Chromecast method can be a big help.

As for the new digital platform, it  allows voters to access all the pertinent episodes they need to see before casting their ballots. For instance, in the Drama and Comedy series categories, voters can view six chosen episodes of each nominee. In Limited Series, the entire season is there, no matter if it’s two episodes or 13. With the expanded voting universe, I now vote in 20 categories (15 for programs and five for writing, my peer group) instead of the maximum of four categories when it was a blue-ribbon panel. Because of the huge increase in the number of final voters, the past practice of Online_Emmy_Votingsending out DVD screeners was just not feasible, and certainly not environment-friendly like this is. In terms of the way this viewing platform — available since August 10 — is presented and designed, I have to hand it to the Academy. It is simply a superb new addition to the way we vote, incredibly easy to navigate as well as being smart and innovative.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ought to take a look at this, but I doubt they will since, unlike the TV Academy, Oscar’s organization refuses to get involved in any official capacity in serving up screeners of nominees in their mainstream categories.  They leave that to the studios to fend for themselves. However, the Motion Picture Academy has, in the past two years, produced a very handsome DVD set of nominees for Foreign Language Film, Documentary Feature and the shorts categories. Going digital for that group with any other titles might be dicier since the risk for piracy is much greater. Although the Emmy site is user- and password-protected, just as online voting is, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult for a determined pirate to find a way in.

But for my fellow TV Academy members, all these new innovations are a big plus, and I think a lot of that credit probably should go to Academy President and COO Maury McIntyre, who came to the Academy from the digital universe and has been dragging the organization into this brave new world. “We had to find a way to make sure that everyone could see the nominated content in the way that you are supposed to be watching it,” he told me shortly after nominations were announced last month. “WeMauryMcIntyre wanted it on your television, so we were so thrilled that in talking with Google that they had this technology which allows us to do that very easily.” He added that for those who want to watch it other ways like Roku or an iPad, you also can do that. “Rather than having to send you 30  DVDs that you have to keep track of, gotta keep together and worry about the piracy issues, this just seemed like a much cleaner solution.”

McIntyre is also ebullient about the double-digit voting increases for Emmy nomination balloting this year and looking forward to more of the same now in the finals that get rolling today. “Clearly in Emmy Statuettesfinal round voting we are going to see a huge increase, because for the first time everyone gets to vote,” he said. “So yes, everything is  going really well with online voting, so we hope to keep seeing that trend.” As for the immediate elimination of paper ballots, something the Motion Picture Academy still seems frightened to do despite initiating the option of online balloting four years ago, McIntyre says that idea actually came from the Awards Department. “They felt it would make a more equitable contest to make sure that everybody had the same platform,” he said. “When you had online and you still had paper, it just didn’t seem the same, so the Awards Department had a really big push for this, and we were happy to oblige them because it sure made it easier for everything else.”

The Television Academy has done its part. Now it is all in the hands of the voters. Primetime Emmys will air September 20 on Fox, with the Creative Arts Emmys taking place September 12. During the voting period, I will be analyzing several different categories and making predictions on Deadline and AwardsLine. Check out also the new AwardsLine print edition for lots of Emmy news and more of my predictions.