With its surprise award for Outstanding Drama Series for "The Handmaid's Tale" at Sunday night's Emmy Awards, Hulu LLC handed Netflix Inc. (NFLX) a tough-to-swallow defeat.
While Netflix was one of the top overall performers at this year's awards, the streaming service fell short of its long-time goal of winning the Emmy's most prestigious award. Netflix had three nominees in the category -- "House of Cards," "The Crown" and "Stranger Things" -- and had spent lavishly this year to influence the TV industry insiders who vote on the Emmys.
The awards are about more than just prestige and bragging rights.
"They hype of things like the Emmy Awards are all because they are good for business," said Wedbush Securities Inc. analyst Michael Pachter. "Academy Awards and Emmy Awards make people more aware."
Even a video juggernaut like Netflix, with more than 100 million subscribers around the globe, can use some free publicity.
"People don't watch shows just because Netflix announces them in a press release," Pachter noted. A prime example is "The Get Down," an ambitious projected with a $120 million budget that lost its traction with viewers. Netflix canceled the series earlier this year.
Netflix did plenty to try to raise awareness for its nominees ahead of the awards. The company staged a 24,000-square-foot promotional space in Beverly Hills, Calif., with props from "The Crown," "Stranger Things" and other titles. The big budget marketing blitz drew headlines of its own.
It's not as though Netflix completely whiffed this year. Its 20 Emmys were second only to the 29 that Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) HBO pocketed. Comcast Corp.'s (CMCSA) NBC came in third place with 15 wins, while Hulu was fourth with 10. Hulu, which is jointly owned by NBC, Walt Disney Co. (DIS) , Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (FOXA) and Time Warner, produces far fewer original series than either Netflix or Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) . But its adaption of the popular Margaret Atwood novel also beat out "Better Call Saul" from AMC Networks Inc. (AMCX) , HBO's "Westworld" and NBC's "This Is Us."
Members of the Television Academy weren't the only ones who thought that "The Handmaid's Tale" was better than Netflix's offerings, with the show scoring 92 out of 100 on Metacritic.com's average of reviews from 40 TV critics.
"House of Cards," which was the first online-only show to win an Emmy back in 2013 though not for the major awards, had a comparatively measly Metacritic score of 60 for its latest season. Netflix shows "The Crown" and "Stranger Things" did better with Metacritic ratings of 81 and 76, respectively, but still fell short of "Handmaid's Tale."
Despite its huge $6 billion budget for TV shows and movies and its aggressive marketing campaign, Netflix will have to wait until next year for another shot at best drama series.
Netflix may be able to draw lessons from this year.
"The formula to win an Emmy is not promotion and billboards in Hollywood, and saying for your consideration," Pachter said. "Guess what? If you make a great show, you have a better chance of Emmy."