I have learned that the TV Academy and ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are getting close on a new eight-year “wheel” deal that will keep the Primetime Emmy Awards on the Big 4 broadcast networks through 2026. It would come eight months after the sides started discussions last July and more than three months before the current eight-year agreement expires with the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on NBC.

I hear the new pact, which is being hammered out, is similar to the current one, with the four nets rotating in hosting the Emmys, each getting two telecasts. I also hear the new agreement includes a minor increase from the current license fee paid by the networks, which is believed to be $8.25 million a year. The Primetime Emmy Awards are the primary revenue source for the TV Academy, helping to fund its programs for the year.

The TV Academy traditionally starts conversations for a new network contract when the previous one expires. But after the protracted 2010-11 negotiations left the Academy in limbo with no TV deal for eight months after the 2010 Primetime Emmys, closing a new agreement mare 4½ months before the 2011 telecast, the two sides started the process early this time, almost a year before the current eight-year “wheel” deal expires with the September 17 telecast on NBC.

Talks kicked off with a July 27 meeting at the TV Academy’s North Hollywood home, which was preceded by an eight-page document that was distributed to the networks about a week before the get-together. The document acknowledged the broadcasters’ desire to see the number of categories given out in the live TV show trimmed.

While the TV Academy and the networks cannot force a reduction of the categories awarded during the main telecast, I hear the new deal does acknowledge their desire to examine the issue as a way of making the telecast more compelling. This is something most awards shows, including the Oscars, grapple with amid sliding ratings; it was recently spotlighted in the scathing resignation letter Bill Mechanic sent to the AMPAS board.

The issue is very political, with previous attempts to take writing and directing categories out of the live Emmy telecast failing after the WGA and DGA threatened to charge the TV Academy steep fees for the right to use show clips at the Emmys that they otherwise grant for free. It can only be done with the unions’ blessing, something they have been unwilling to do so far.

The most recent 2017 Primetime Emmy Awards on CBS matched the all-time low viewership of the 2016 show with 11.4 million viewers which hitting a new demo low for a second year in a row.

While the Primetime Emmys continue to air on the Big 4 broadcast networks, the dominance of cable and streaming programs at the awards has been a source of frustration for the broadcast nets, which pay for the rights to a telecast that showcases sometime little-seen cable and digital fare. Still, in the era of on-demand viewing that puts premium on live event programming, the Primetime Emmys remain a marquee property. “There are so few brands of live awards that mean anything that I think they have some leverage,” one observer noted last year.

As we reported before, the TV Academy was repped in the deal by heavyweight lawyer Ken Ziffren, who also led the previous two negotiations in 2002 and in 2010-11.

Dominic Patten contributed to this report.