There's a prevailing stereotype that made-for-YouTube productions encompass little more than GoPro videos of would-be extreme athletes falling on their faces in suburban vacant lots and/or directionless twentysomethings pretending to be loudly frightened by Five Nights At Freddy's. But amidst the clutter, the platform has grown to encompass a wide variety of high-end original programming by a new generation of creative professionals and productions that challenge the entertainment industry status-quo. And also cats. So very many cats.
Now, YouTubers will have the chance to compete for the biggest prize in broadcast television, as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has announced that short-form digital productions will now be eligible for The Emmys.
While at least two separate awards already exist for online-originating content, the Webbys and the Streamys, both of those institutions choose their winners via a public voting process. The new Emmy categories (including Outstanding Actor and Actress in a Short Form Series and Outstanding Short Form Series, Variety) will mark the first major awards for such content voted on by fellow professionals and industry peers. This system is thought to prioritize professional appraisal over the fan enthusiasm that has thus far driven "stardom" in digital spheres, where the immediacy of likes and clicks can often favor the loudest voice over the one with something to say.
The move comes as part of a broader realignment of the Emmy's structure and procedure: A two-step nomination process for special visual effects categories will now be part of the voting, while outstanding costumes for variety, nonfiction or reality programming will no longer be a juried award, but will instead get five nominees like other major categories. The variety directing will now be split into two talk and sketch categories. Addressing the changes, specifically the inclusion of digital platforms, Academy Chairman Bruce Rosenbaum said:
"Our governors recognize the volume of really exceptional work of our members and the people on other platforms. Look at the quality of talent working in this space. It's the responsibility of our organization to recognize that."
"I think it's all an affirmation that our organization wants to recognize our members' work, regardless of platform or length.We will always be the organization that recognizes top achievements on the traditional networks, but our industry is evolving."
The move to include new professionals from the increasingly robust world of original digital programming is sure to prove controversial, with many in traditional media being openly resentful of the impact YouTube and other platforms have had in diverting audience attention away from conventional programming. In addition, plenty of animosity exists in mainstream Hollywood against digital professionals in general, based on digital's strong resistance to security and intellectual property measures that the industry believes are required to thwart the increased problem of internet piracy. It also remains to be seen whether or not the attention of the Emmys themselves will be fully embraced by digital professionals, many of whom have made it a point of pride to eschew the attention of bigger entertainment entities.
The new voting rules and categories that include YouTube will go in to effect in time for the 2016 Emmys, with voting set to begin on June 13.