TV Academy Starts Talks With Big 4 Nets On New Wheel Deal For Primetime Emmys

By Nellie Andreeva, Dominic Patten


EXCLUSIVE: Six years ago, the TV Academy was brought to the brink as negotiations with the major broadcast networks for a new Primetime Emmys deal dragged on for more than eight months, only closing 4½ months before the 2011 telecast. The TV Academy traditionally starts conversations for a new network contract when the previous one expires with the last Emmy telecast under the old pact. But after the protracted 2010-11 negotiations that left the Academy in limbo with no TV deal for eight months, it’s starting early this time, a whole year before the current eight-year “wheel” deal expires after the 2018 telecast on NBC.

We have learned that the TV Academy has retained heavyweight lawyer Ken Ziffren, who led the previous two negotiations in 2002 and in 2010-11. Contacted by Deadline, the offices of Ziffren Brittenham LLP confirmed that L.A’s Film Czar is representing the Hayma Washington-led TV Academy.

Talks kicked off with a July 27 meeting at the TV Academy’s North Hollywood home, where Ziffren sat down with top business executives from CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox to get a “head start” on a new agreement, sources tells us. We hear the TV Academy is seeking another “wheel” agreement with the four networks.

The meeting was preceded by an eight-page document that was distributed to the networks about a week before the get-together. Intended to serve as a pre-emptive agenda of sorts, the document from the TV Academy to the broadcasters discusses the length of a new deal — which we hear could be eight or four years, with eight preferred — and addresses head-on the topics that were sticking issues between the two sides in the previous negotiations.

In this “very early stage,” the document acknowledges the broadcasters’ desire to see the number of categories given out in the live TV show trimmed. The issue is very political, with previous attempts to take writing and directing categories out of the main 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.

We hear that license fees are not part of the discussion yet, though the TV Academy likely would seek some increase. The broadcast networks pay $8.25 million a year for the Emmy telecast under the current deal, up slightly from the $7.5 million they shelled out in the second half of the previous eight-year contract.

“The TV Academy is anxious to explore how they can maximize opportunity, increase profitability and feel relevant,” a source said.

The TV Academy secured license fee increases from the broadcast networks in 2002 after HBO threw a wrench into the negotiations with its offer to pay $10 million a year for the rights to the telecast. Despite the continuous dominance of HBO in the Emmy nominations and the rise of streaming services, we hear there are no current plans to pursue an alternative home for the Emmys. “They want to be seen,” a source said about TV Academy’s intention to keep the Primetime Emmys on the widely distributed broadcast networks.

That said, the dominance of cable and streaming programs at the Emmys has been a source of frustration for the broadcast networks, which pay for the rights to a telecast that showcases sometime little-seen cable and digital fare. That, combined with overall erosion of TV viewing and stronger competition, has led to a ratings slide for the Primetime Emmy telecast, which hit all-time lows of 11.3 million viewers with a 2.8 rating among adults 18-49 (Live+same day) on ABC last fall, airing against Sunday Night Football on NBC.

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 said.

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