July 18, 2013 at 11:41 AM ET
Don't be surprised if on Emmy night, you hear a first: "The red envelope, please."
No longer just a service that delivers DVDs in nifty packaging, Netflix proved it's a ground breaking television force on Thursday when the Internet streaming service scored a whopping 14 Emmy nominations. Netflix broke into all of the major drama categories, and stole the spotlight not just from broadcast network stalwarts, but from the traditional medium of television itself.
The service, which kickstarted its original programming model this year, earned nine nominations for the David Fincher-directed "House of Cards," three nominations for its "Arrested Development" reboot; and two nods for the critically-panned "Hemlock Grove." "House of Cards" stands against formidable foes: last year's winner "Homeland," "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," "Game of Thrones" and "Downton Abbey."
"We think it’s very validating for Internet television—television is not defined by how it gets to the screen," chief content officer Ted Sarandos said in an interview Thursday, shortly after the nominations were announced. "It’s defined by what’s on the screen. And we’re thrilled that Emmy voters were open to our format and saw our programming on the same par with the best of cable and broadcast and premium television. It’s a vindication for new media, for the Internet and Internet television, for creative freedom, and for the use of technology to advance entertainment."
The way the audience can access shows on Netflix is not the only factor distinguishing it from the rest of television. Instead of producing a test pilot and screening it in front of test audiences, the company gathers big data from subscriber preferences to determine its programming choices. Netflix noticed its subscribers loved the original BBC series "House of Cards," loved movies that starred Kevin Spacey, were huge fans of films directed by David Fincher and voila, Netflix moved ahead with a $100 million, 26-episode order.
The process has drawn criticism from the creative community and media who argue that art has given way to data-crunching. On Thursday, Sarandos said the data that led to his decision to make the show has nothing to do with how the show turned out. Its stars, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, also received lead dramatic actor nominations.
"I don’t think it’s even possible to reverse-engineer a great television show," Sarandos said. "What we were able to do was use our data and our numbers to better value the show and be able to predict that it would be very popular with consumers. There hasn’t been a popular show set in politics since “The West Wing,” and that's because somebody made a decision that they wouldn’t be popular. But, in this case, the data showed there would be room for a show like that and that it was less about politics more about corruption and power and greed and sex and all the things that people really love. 'House of Cards' is an example of picking a great content creator and a great piece of material and getting out of their way."
Spacey, who has won two Oscars, said in a statement that he is grateful for the faith Netflix gambled and allowed the team to create a series over time instead of going through the traditional pilot process.
"They have been fantastic partners and I am delighted that--despite being the new kids on the block--we have broken through in such a competitive field of outstanding work," he said. "I am honored the Academy has been so generous in their recognition."
"Cards" isn't the only success of Netflix's morning. Although "Arrested Development," which won an Emmy for outstanding comedy in 2004, did not crack the outstanding comedy race as many pundits had predicted, actor Jason Bateman was nominated for lead role in a comedy and the show received two other nominations: single-camera picture editing for a comedy series and music composition for a series. To the industry, it is all reminiscent of the era when premium cable network HBO emerged as a contender against the broadcast networks.
"When we announced we were going to do 'House of Cards,' it became serious for everybody," Sarandos said. "We had some of the best actors, writers and director in the business working on television for the first time, and I think that's why we are a destination for most great shows today. We're proud to be able to create programming that's competitive with people who have been doing it their whole lives."