How much is an Emmy really worth?

September 22, 2015, 10:00 AM UTC
Courtesy of HBO

In the walk up to the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony, the big talk was what would win “Outstanding Comedy Series” award. If the ABC comedy series “Modern Family” won, it would mark the sixth time, a feat no show has ever accomplished. If Amazon Instant Video Series “Transparent” won, as some predicted, that would qualify as a true upset. As it turned out, the award went to HBO’s “Veep,” upsetting the upset.

That got us wondering: Does this mean anything for “Veep’s” bottom line?

In other words, what is an Emmy award actually worth — to studios, TV shows and actors? Does it provide anything other than an ego boost? On this matter, opinions vary.

It’s no Oscar

Between 1990 and 2009, movies that won the award for Best Picture immediately saw an increase in box office receipts, to the tune of $14 million on average. This phenomenon is known as the “Oscar bump,” and it’s easy to imagine that something similar happens when a show wins an Emmy. However, this often isn’t the case.

In 2013, writer Don Kaplan wrote in the New York Daily News that the financial effect of winning an Emmy is noticeably less spectacular than that associated with an Oscar win, simply because of the long-term nature of the negotiations.

“TV deals usually span several years,” he wrote. “In the movie business, actors, producers and directors are more like mercenaries, constantly on the hunt for a new deal — and an Oscar unquestionably helps command higher paychecks.”

But it can be good for the network

Emmy victories have put the names of new shows in front of a public that may not have been aware of their existence previously. However, the benefits don’t end there — an Emmy win can bring credibility to an entire network.

When “Mad Men” was nominated for 16 Emmy Awards after its first season, its audience more than doubled, from less than one million viewers to almost 2 million. When it won the award for “Outstanding Drama Series” for its debut season, it made viewers aware that the AMC network was a force to be reckoned with, and today the show is credited with putting the network on the map.

As the first cable program ever to win an Emmy, it opened the door for other Emmy-winning cable shows that we take for granted today, including last night’s big winner, “Veep.”

What about streaming services?

Like HBO, Netflix has been developing so-called prestige programming to lure subscribers, and the streaming service has been steadily growing its subscriber base. In 2014, Netflix was nominated for a whopping 31 Primetime Emmys and won 7. Although the awards were for editing, casting and other awards given out ahead of time, Netflix still saw a short-lived jump in its stock, and certainly the recognition has helped it attract more talent. Whether the awards really offer long-term business benefits, though, is hard to isolate.

This year saw Amazon Instant Video receive 12 Emmy nominations, and it won 5 awards, including best actor in a comedy series (Jeffrey Tambor of “Transparent”) and best director of a comedy series (Jill Soloway, “Transparent”). Amazon doesn’t release how many Prime subscribers it has.

Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst for the Rentrak Corporation, meanwhile, said the service would be best served by building its library and its reputation.”If you’re a fledgling content provider, you have to grab onto any kind of positive press about your content that you can,” he said. “You need to grab onto that and create a cumulative body of work that is reflective of some of the best content around or represents some of the best content available.”

It can boost an actor’s paycheck. Sometimes.

It’s tempting to assume that an actor who becomes an Emmy-winning actor now has carte blanche to earn a higher salary. But actors who have taken the award home — even those who have taken home more than one — have said that an Emmy victory offers few actual guarantees.

“Sometimes you can demand more money and get bigger roles, but it depends,” said actor and multiple Emmy-winner Hank Azaria. “I’ve won four, and they’ve all done different things… It’s lovely on the night, and it’s nice to be acknowledged, but beyond that I think it’s a mistake to think it’s going to change your career in some of kind of a big way.”

Jean Smart, who won two Emmys for her work on the sitcom “Frasier,” said that for an actor, the award could actually carry a downside. In 2011, she told Variety that winning an Emmy might make some producers assume that an actor is now exorbitantly expensive, and pass on them.

In the case of “Modern Family,” its Emmy wins allowed the cast to renegotiate their salaries. Each adult member of the show’s ensemble cast saw their pay increase by almost 300 percent, from $55,000-$65,000 per episode to $150,000-$175,000 per episode. So while a post-Emmy salary bump isn’t always guaranteed, it’s not off the table either.

Now that the broadcast has faded into history, the “Outstanding Comedy Series” Emmy takes its place of honor on Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ mantelpiece. If it adds any value to “Veep” that wasn’t there before, only time will tell. But it will be interesting nonetheless to see if the award is a game-changer for this HBO comedy, or if, in Hank Azaria’s words, it’s just something that’s lovely on the night.

Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.

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