The times continue to be a-changin’ with the Television Academy. Today the Emmy-dispensing organization announced that it has teamed up with Google to distribute Chromecast devices to the entire 18,500-strong membership so they can view (and vote for) the final Emmy nominees as they were meant to be seen: on a television screen and not a computer, keychain or whatever. After banning voting by paper ballots and switching completely to online voting this season, the organization says this initiative “represents the latest move by the Academy to evolve and enhance the viewing and voting procedures for the Emmy awards with state-of-the-art technology and methodology.” It also says this multiyear commitment with Chromecast is eco-friendly as it is a thumb-size media streaming device that plugs into an HDMI port on your TV.
According to an email sent today to all members, it is as simple as one-two-three because “you then use a phone, tablet or laptop to cast your favorite entertainment and apps — including the Emmy Nominee viewing platform (which will have all the nominees included) — right to the big screen.” The Academy is calling this an “Emmy voter gift” that will be delivered shortly with instructions on how to set it up. “Instructions” is always a scary word to me. I have a very complicated setup for my 61-inch Panasonic TV and all the devices that already are connected to it. My TV guy, Carlos, is practically on speed dial. And in fact, I coincidentally talked to him just this morning — before this announcement — about the ongoing problems I have had with the Chromecast device he already installed. It ain’t as easy as the TV Academy’s email makes it sound, at least not for this technology challenged Emmy voter.
As a film critic, I have been increasingly frustrated by the number of independent movies, formerly sent on DVD screeners, that now are being made available for review only by streaming via emailed links to my laptop, so I asked Carlos if there was a way I could get the link to work on my television. Of course the proper way to see these films is on a big screen, and I make every effort to do that (I believe in the movie theater experience for everything). But that isn’t always possible, so Chromecast came into my life. For the first four or five films, after Carlos showed me in detail all the steps involved, I actually was able to “cast” those links to the TV, but it took concentrated effort. Except every movie I watched that way was always slightly out of synch as opposed to the way they looked on the laptop. On top of that, every single one of them would freeze at several points during the film and I would have to get up off the couch and fiddle with the laptop, which I put near the TV, to make it resume. Pretty primitive, right? A couple of times the movie stopped in the middle and started all over from the beginning. Very frustrating. Lately I can’t get any connection between the laptop and TV screen, so I am back to watching this stuff on a computer screen, certainly not the desired effect and definitely not the way the TV Academy wants us to view Emmy nominees.
If filmmakers knew the way critics are asked to watch some of these movies they would be horrified. Due to special circumstances, I actually had no choice but to watch a certain blockbuster major studio release this way last year when Chromecast once again failed me. I am hoping the new device the Academy is sending will bring me better luck, but I still am going to have to have Carlos come out and set it up, though it is probably the same thing I already have. I am willing to bet there will be plenty of Emmy voters at a complete loss on their own as to how to make this work. Today’s email to members, with links to the instructions, made my eyes glaze over. The Academy’s helpline is going to get a lot of business.
But I do applaud the TV Academy leadership for trying to drag us into this century. With a rule change earlier this year that eliminated blue-ribbon panels for final voting and that allows more members to vote for Emmys than ever before, something was needed to replace the costly and time-consuming need to send DVD screeners (which would have numbered into the many thousands) of the nominated work. This “green” initiative eliminates the need for those discs and packaging materials. Voters still must vow they have seen all the contenders. The new Emmy voting platform combined with the use of Chromecast devices is, on paper at least (pardon the ancient expression), a good solution to try to present a quality, normal TV watching experience in order to choose the best of the year. But it could be fraught with peril for some, and it seems a bit deja vu, or view. Consider the Cinea Oscar disaster.
In 2004, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also sent a “gift” to their membership in the form of a custom-made Cinea-S DVD player designed to play only specially encrypted awards screeners. Studios jumped on board as piracy was, and still is, a huge problem and these machines — which were registered to each individual Oscar voter — looked like an easy fix. It didn’t last, as it felt way too complicated for the average voter to even set up. Most of the machines stayed in their boxes and the studios went back to watermarking discs. By 2007 Cinea (a division of Dolby Labs) stopped producing the devices altogether. In the past, as part of my job, I have been sent special devices such as Roku and Amazon Fire in order to watch specific shows from Amazon and Netflix. In each case Carlos had to come out and set them up. It wound up costing several hundred dollars as there was always something else I needed like newer-issue Blu-ray players compatible with Netflix etc.
I really do wish the Television Academy well with this new venture, and it is to be applauded for opening voting up to larger numbers that can really shake up the sometimes too-predictable voting patterns that have plagued the Emmys in the past. But who said any of this was going to be easy?Nominations will be announced Thursday. Chromecast devices should arrive the week of July 20. Emmy Nominees Viewing Platform opens August 10. Final round voting begins August 17. Good luck, voters.