Networks keep Emmys from defecting to HBO. The Big Four broadcast channels will keep the awards show for the next eight years, at more than double the old price

By Gary Susman
Updated November 14, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST
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Thanks to shows like ”The Sopranos” and ”Sex and the City,” HBO has taken home a lot of Emmys in recent years, but it won’t take home the whole Emmy ceremony. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS), which had been entertaining a bid by the cable channel to take the awards show off network TV and air it on HBO for the next five years, backed down Wednesday in the face of pressure from the Big Four networks. The new deal will keep the show rotating among ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC for the next eight years, albeit at more than twice the price the networks were paying before.

Under the new deal, the networks will pay $52 million to license the telecast from ATAS — $5.5 million for each of the first four years, and $7.5 million for each of the next four years, Reuters reports. The annual fee had been $3 million through 2002, but the Academy had been trying to boost the fee up to $10 million, more in line with other high-profile awards shows like the Grammys, for which CBS pays $25 million and draws 20 million viewers, about the same ratings as the Emmys. The broadcasters weren’t willing to pay that much, but HBO was, offering $50 million for five years. That would have taken the show off free TV for the first time in its 54-year history and kept it off the sets of at least the 15 percent of the population that doesn’t buy cable or satellite service.

Money was apparently not the deciding factor in the decision the ATAS board of governors made Wednesday night. ”It was never about the highest offer,” ATAS president and chief operating officer Todd Leavitt told Reuters. The networks, which have grumbled in the past that pay-cable channels already have an unfair Emmy advantage because they’re free of the broadcasters’ scheduling and content constraints, had threatened to boycott an HBO Emmy show, either by withholding clips and stars, counterprogramming opposite the telecast, or bolting from the Academy and starting their own non-ATAS awards show.

Still, ATAS got some of what it wanted, thanks to HBO driving up the price. ”Clearly, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude and affection to HBO,” Academy chairman Bryce Zabel told the Associated Press.

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