Emmy season is revving up already even though the primetime awards show won’t be happening until the end of summer Emmyslogo_new(Monday August 25th on NBC). But if you want to vote, the first major deadline looms tomorrow April 17, the last day to join the Academy, renew your membership or apply for hyphenate ballots in order to cast a ballot in this year’s contest. There is always a surge  of interest in joining the Academy around this time of year. In fact, last season there was a substantial increase in membership, primarily in order to cast an Emmy ballot. It’s not uncommon to see applications coming in bulk from staffs of shows that want those nominations, but unless these hopefuls apply by Thursday they will have to wait until next year.

In addition to the deadline, the Television Academy (as it now calls itself – and full disclosure I am on the Board Of Governors representing Writers) just sent out a formal letter this week to the eligible membership (now well over 16,000 and climbing) regarding instructions for online voting, which is being instituted for the first time this season. The Academy announced in November it would be embarking on a two-year rollout of online voting and hired Everyone Counts, the same firm that handles the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ electronic voting operation. You might recall that effort had a rocky start in 2012, but in its second year things ran much more smoothly and most of the controversy that surrounded the launch dissipated. The TV Academy, which has a much larger membership than the 6,028 eligible Oscar voters, wisely waited to see the kinks worked out with the Oscars before subjecting their members (including the older ones – and there are lots of those) to the trauma of it all. They even had conversations with the Motion Picture Academy officials about the good, the bad and the ugly of it all before hiring the same firm. Unlike Oscar however, Emmy is taking it a little more cautiously and the online option will only be available to members in 2014 for the first round of voting in order to select Emmy nominees. The second round where actual winners are chosen will still be exclusively a paper ballot and snail mail proposition.  In 2015 online voting will be used in both rounds.

television_academy_logo_masterThat second round of voting is where the Emmy model differs significantly from Oscar where all members now get to vote in every single one of the 24 categories, a move toward complete democracy in the Motion Picture Academy that was completed this year. Of course television has a few more tentacles and it would be too unwieldy for Emmys which still lets the peer groups decide winners in their own categories (ie actors, writers, directors, cinematographers etc).  All active members are eligible to vote in most program categories (drama, comedy series, etc)  but those too are decided by limited pools of volunteers who sign up to vote in them.

At any rate, the Online Voting letter the Academy sent follows a familiar pattern for anyone familiar with the Oscar process. It instructs members to know their current username and password and to have a current email address or mobile number in their TV Academy profile on the member site. That’s used by Everyone Counts in order to authenticate their eligibility. If this is freaking you out – as it did many Oscar voters in the beginning – you can still receive an old-fashioned paper ballot, but in order to do that must OPT OUT (in capital letters in the letter) of online voting by May 23rd. The letter explains you have to go to a website, TelevisionAcademy.com/opt-out  or call 818-754-2869 for information on how to do that.

It all sounds simple enough but the fact is a lot of busy TV types don’t read their emails or letters from the Academy, just as manyphoto Oscar voters don’t, and so when the time comes to vote starting on June 9th (with ballots due by June 20th)  you can expect the complaints to start rolling in from members who will plead ignorance about “opting out” and will be wondering where their Emmy ballot is. THAT is the most solid prediction I am offering this entire Emmy season. Hopefully it will be an easier learning curve for TV Academy folks than it was for Oscar’s tribe, many of whom now tell me how easy the whole thing is. Who knew?

As for the actual race itself, it promises to be one of the most competitive ever, but so far the expected onslaught of For Your Consideration screeners  has been kept to a minimum (as far as I can tell) with only Starz, Downton Abbey and The Food Network (which was first out of the box promoting such shows as Cutthroat Kitchen and Guy’s Grocery Games) sending handsomely produced packages of their shows to the membership. And invitations are arriving for lots of special events aimed directly at Emmy voters including last night’s screening and live concert at Universal Citywalk with the top 12 artists on Season 6 of last year’s Emmy-winning reality series The Voice. Expect all these campaigns to really heat up and the money to flow, all for the chance to grab that golden girl. It’s just getting started.

Emmy nominations will be announced July 10.