As it copes with fast-changing, tech-driven times, the Emmy voting organization has been continually assessing its operations. As part of that, reviews of peer groups and their purpose are are a fairly regular occurrence, according to people familiar with the workings of the organization.
Yet the interactive media peer group has served as an important bridge between digital and traditional media, offering the decades-old body a means of identifying tech innovation. It awarded Apple an Emmy for its early effort to stream TV episodes via the iPad, as well as prizes to various companies for their work in extending the viewing experience online.
Geoff Katz, who was elected to the Academy’s Board of Governors representing the interactive group multiple times in the late-2000s and early 2010s and has remained a member, said he was notified in 2020 that his status had changed. “Based on our research,” the Academy said, he had been shifted to the TV Executives peer group. Others, he told Deadline, have been told they were being transferred to the Science and Tech or TV Executive peer group.
Katz’s notification came at a curious moment, just as his former employer was being widely hailed for its success in streaming. He was at that time SVP of product management at Disney, where he had been a member of the team that launched Disney+ in November 2019. He left Disney toward the end of 2020 and now works as a consultant.
A central issue in the situation is whether streaming is being generally considered by the Academy as something other than interactive media, a heading which used to suggest adjacent arenas like websites and mobile apps. User interfaces and the way streaming services operate are central to their appeal. Netflix’s leadership status has been attained by leaps once unimaginable, such as its introduction of binge releases and forays into interactive storytelling and gaming through the same app that brings viewers prestige programming like The Crown.
Internal communications among interactive media peer group members indicate they are worried that innovation may not get proper recognition from the Emmy organization. Over time, younger people involved in television and video who should be acknowledged and engaged by the Academy might not feel welcome.
A representative from the Academy declined to comment.
According to Katz, the interactive group had grown to more than 800 members, making it one of the largest in the Academy, though its ranks have been shrinking of late. There are 16,000 TV Academy members in total. Peer groups are a tool enabling such a large and diversified institution to stay connected with a range of individual disciplines and crafts and identify work of distinction and initiatives worthy of support.
The larger context of the situation is the massive disruption wrought by streaming, which has destabilized the television industry and also led to significant consolidation. Last September’s Primetime Emmy Awards offered a punctuation mark on the end of a sentence written over the past few years. Netflix won 44 Emmys, tying the all-time record set by CBS in 1974. Since 2019, more than a half-dozen billion-dollar rivals to Netflix have emerged. Apple’s Ted Lasso dominated the comedy category last September, and Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock and other services have become major strategic priorities for media companies.
In a LinkedIn post last Sunday, Katz asked his followers for any information about the “seeming dissolution and elimination” of the interactive peer group. His post included a half-winking link to the music video for “We Built This City,” the 1985 pop song by Starship.
Deadline obtained a letter sent in October to Academy governors from Chris Thomes and Lori H. Schwartz, co-heads of the interactive group. Schwartz is a CNN contributor as well as a prominent figure at major trade shows like CES through her marketing firm, StoryTech. Thomes is VP of marketing strategy for ABC Studios. They sounded the alarm about the effort to end the group, which they called “unprecedented” and “an incredibly big deal.” In the past, they said, peer groups have occasionally combined with each other “but not dissolved based on issues that need clarity.”
In a series of group text messages with other members in recent days that were viewed by Deadline, Schwartz described a void of information from the TV Academy. She said seven months had elapsed without an update. At a recent meeting of the Board of Governors, she said, the decision had been made to vet each member of the peer group rather than outright dissolve it.
Registering dissatisfaction in the text chain, Schwartz floated one possible resolution to the strife. “I am going to take our disenfranchised group and build something elsewhere,” she wrote.
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