By Wayne Karrfalt
Special to TelevisionWeek
When the National Television Academy introduced the Broadband Emmy Awards last year, dubbed the “iPod Emmys” by The New York Times, the group decided to give them a soft launch. One award was given in each content area-entertainment, sports, news and public service-and little was done to promote the category or solicit entries. A total of only 200 submissions came in, and the entertainment award-the lone Daytime Broadband Emmy-went to AOL for its “Live 8” concert coverage.
This year the judges should have more entries to choose from.
For one, the major studios have been busy creating original content for new platforms, from mobisodes of Twentieth Television’s “manipulated reality” improv show “Love and Hate” to the off-color comedy sketch “Kyle’s in a Coma” on NBC Universal’s Dotcomedy.com. (These companies have also been streaming full-length episodes of hit shows online, but the award is limited to content made originally for new media.)
In addition, the academy brought in News Corp. subsidiary MySpace as a partner to help encourage independent filmmakers and amateur videographers to submit their work. Starting Feb. 1 any of MySpace’s community of 50,000 filmmakers or 80 million registered users could go to http://myspace.com/myemmy to submit original videos. MySpace is even offering about 100 “scholarships” to cover the $400 entry fees required for each submission.
The roughly hewn animated blog “It’s Jerrytime!” written and scored by Jerry and Orrin Zucker, which came within a fraction of the votes necessary to win the award last year, comes up on the MySpace Emmy page to encourage amateurs and professionals alike.
The idea behind teaming up with the social networking site and expanding the Broadband Emmy Award-this year Daytime Broadband Emmys will be given in four categories: drama, comedy, children’s programming and variety-is that the award should better reflect the medium itself.
The academy felt important work is being done for distribution on the Internet, cellphones, iPods and other devices by accomplished professionals in each of these categories.
Digital distribution outlets are also great equalizers in terms of ease of access, said academy President and CEO Peter Price, and they are helping to incubate talent like nothing that has come before them.
“Young Spielbergs in their teens, independent contractors that already have commercial contacts and inspired amateurs who feel they’re doing professional-quality work-they’re all creating viable work that deserves to be considered,” Mr. Price said.
While the academy expects more submissions this year, it’s not sure how many more will come in. Given the relatively steep entry fee, and limitations clearly spelled out in the rules specifying that the video must have appeared first on the Internet, Mr. Price expects producers to undergo a self-selection process similar to what mainstream entrants go through.
“As in our professional awards, often the individual and not the company makes the entry, and a scriptwriter or songwriter has to think twice before making the next mortgage payment,” he said.
He also expects the social networking aspect to come into play in helping the cream rise to the top. MySpace will select only the best when it decides whom to award scholarships to, calling on user ratings and its own team of judges. Also, the community at large will likely encourage the very best filmmakers to submit their work and the worst ones to step aside and not clog up the system.
Mr. Price says the perception that the Internet, or MySpace for that matter, is just for kids is false. Many professional filmmakers, journalists and musicians use the site to promote and share their work, he notes.
Academy member Av Westin, a veteran news producer and co-chair of the Awards Committee, News and Documentary, for the National TV Academy, wrote the rules regarding particulars such as length (each submission must be under 20 minutes) and entry procedures (each entrant must submit an essay along with the clip explaining why it’s “Emmy worthy”) to communicate the seriousness of the award.
Then again, the lure of 15 minutes of fame and a lucrative Hollywood contract could encourage thousands to try their luck. Video-sharing site YouTube has proved at least one tenet of the Internet age: Today’s video producers are not shy.
If the academy is inundated with submissions, however, the judges should be able to handle them, thanks to the electronic nature of the submission process itself. Instead of having to invite judges into the academy offices to view tapes and feed them lunch in between sessions or mail them out manually, broadband submissions can be e-mailed directly to judges’ home computers.
“We can probably handle 10 times the amount of entries this way,” said Mr. Price. “If we had to do it the old way, we’d have to buy a hell of a lot of sandwiches or Fed Ex would get very rich.”