This year’s Emmy nominations are out, and one thing is abundantly clear: Netflix is now an entertainment powerhouse, close on the heels of HBO. The company nabbed a record 93 nominations for its original streaming content, nearly double what it earned last year, and just 17 shy of HBO’s eye-popping 110. While House of Cards has arguably overstayed its welcome on the awards show circuit, Netflix has nonetheless used that program and many others — including The Crown, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Master of None — to climb the nomination ranks.
Back in 2016, Netflix came in third in overall nominations behind FX, which earned its recognition largely on the strength of Fargo. The year before, Netflix hung out at the bottom of the nominee list, behind Fox, FX, NBC, CBS, and ABC.
It’s worth noting that HBO’s The Leftovers received only one nomination this year, for Ann Dowd’s guest appearance on The Leftovers as cult leader Patti Levine. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones, because of its delayed season 7 premiere, was completely off this year’s ticket. Still, Netflix’s ability to so consistently churn out quality television across a vast number of categories suggests the company’s experimental approach is paying off, along with its track record of bringing in creators with strong individual visions. (The company notably moves promptly to shutter shows that don’t perform well with viewers.)
Netflix’s gradual gain in industry awards has been a steady trend, as the company has aggressively amped up its original production output and gunned for more traditional recognition at annual awards shows. It’s also a telling data point for the rise of streaming services. This is the first year Netflix and Hulu outnumber cable broadcasters in the coveted Outstanding Drama Series. Although HBO’s Westworld and NBC’s Saturday Night Live, which tied for 22 total nominations, cemented traditional TV’s dominance at the top of the chart, it’s becoming increasingly likely streaming services will start to lead the pack.
Netflix has only climbed the Emmy ladder by strategically playing the odds. The company is almost doubling its nomination count every year, but it’s also producing a mind-boggling 600 hours of content and spending $6 billion a year to do so. Back in 2013, Netflix had House of Cards, Hemlock Grove, and Orange Is the New Black, alongside some animated kids’ series and the fourth season of Arrested Development. In 2016, Netflix released an estimated 126 original series and films.
And while award nominations don’t automatically translate to award wins — Netflix has only won 21 Emmys, while Game of Thrones alone has 38 wins — the meteoritic growth in Netflix’s output should reasonably have HBO worried, especially as Game of Thrones begins winding down. Westworld is a certifiable hit, but there’s no telling how many seasons it will stretch. HBO is also being generous by giving showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy whatever time they need to realize their vision, which is why we’re all waiting until next year for a much-anticipated season 2. Couple that with cancellations of Vinyl, and the end of Lena Dunham’s Girls and Damon Lindelof’s The Leftovers, and you have an HBO slate that’s looking increasingly timid in the face of Netflix’s impressive track record and future prospects. It won’t matter how many awards HBO shows have under their belts if the company can’t produce enough hits to keep pace with Netflix viewership.
Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, was famously quoted in a 2013 GQ profile saying, “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” No quote has been more emblematic of the contest between these two TV makers, and the general tidal shift from cable to streaming. No company knows this better than HBO, which is undoubtedly trying to replicate Netflix’s fast-and-furious model while attempting to hold onto its comfortable relationship with cable companies and maintain its reputation for quality. But if we’re going by sheer numbers — and in the world of artistic recognition and Hollywood perception, these Emmy numbers speak volumes — then Netflix feels very close to achieving Sarandos’ milestone.