Netflix has won its first Emmy after House of Cards director David Fincher won the award for Best Director of a Drama Series, beating out directors from Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey and Homeland.
Its Emmy win marks an important milestone for Netflix as it moves beyond rerunning TV shows and films on its streaming video platform to creating original content. House of Cards, which launched in January, reaped 9 of Netflix’s 14 Primetime Emmy nominations. The others were three nominations for Arrested Development and two for Hemlock Grove.
As Ryan Lawler noted in July when the nominations were first announced, Netflix’s Emmy nods come just two years after the company first announced its plans to get into original programming with House of Cards, and little over a year after its first original series, Lillyhammer, premiered.
Today’s Emmy win is a strong indicator that Netflix can compete with television’s major players, even though it redefines “primetime” by presenting shows in much different ways than traditional networks. Netflix does not have linear programming and all episodes in a season are made available at once.
The positive critical reception Netflix has received for its original series, including House of Cards, Arrested Development, Hemlock Grove and Orange Is The New Black, calls back to the way HBO and other cable networks changed the TV landscape in the early 1990s. Before then, cable networks were known mostly for syndicating TV shows and running second-rate movies. Then HBO began releasing original content, including The Larry Sanders Show, that did well with both viewers and critics.
For many TV critics, the premiere of The Sopranos on HBO in 1999 heralded a new “Golden Age of Television,” with cable networks launching series, such as Breaking Bad, The Wire and Mad Men, that are more narratively complex and darker in tone than previous well-received TV dramas.
One key difference between Netflix’s original content and cable shows like “Breaking Bad,” however, is that Netflix withholds viewership numbers. For example, even Orange Is The New Black distributor Lionsgate doesn’t know how many people watched the series. As Lionsgate president of worldwide televsion and digital distribution James Packer recently said, this makes it difficult to sell shows in countries where Netflix has limited reach because distributors without data. It also makes it difficult to gauge the cultural impact of a show.
With other streaming services like Amazon Studios and Hulu following Netflix’s lead by offering their own high-quality original content, however, there’s a chance the next Golden Age of TV may happen on streaming video instead.