Interactive Wins New Emmy Categories

Under the theory that TV is no longer limited to that box in your living room, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has added two new Emmy awards to its lineup, recognizing interactive and new-media programming efforts for the first time.

The new awards not only reflect the variety of content now available, but the changes in consumer television viewing habits, pointing to a future in which TV literally won't have a single set delivery scheme, according to academy president Peter Price.

"Our awards, while they recognize sports and news and all kinds of things very diligently — and even have, for 47 years, recognized technology and engineering — have not really addressed what I feel is a transformation going on, which is not the creation of the technology. It's how that emerging technology is shaping reshaping the consumer viewing of television," Price said.

That includes defining the medium as "moving from the electronic fireplace in the living room with Uncle Miltie to images on screens anytime, anywhere."

Bearing somewhat long-winded titles, the interactive TV awards are Outstanding Achievement in Advanced Media Technology for the Enhancement of Original Television Content and Outstanding Achievement in Advanced Media Technology for the Creation of Non-Traditional Programs and Platforms. They will be handed out at the Technology and Engineering Awards show Oct. 23 in New York.

The original-content award focuses on content that has enhanced or extended traditional TV programming, such as a Web site geared to a specific program or event. The nontraditional award focuses on content that creates an entirely new viewer experience, not delivered in a traditional TV format, such as content produced exclusively for broadband or DVD delivery.

Although they fall roughly into the ITV category, the awards were created to recognize a wider range of new media related to television.

"I think the bigger playing field, the more expansive and challenging turf, is not interactive television, it's new digital media," Price said. "It's not how the old box becomes the new box; it's what is the new box, and what is the new playing field?

"So rather than an enhancement of analog television, what is the new digital world look like from a technology and engineering standpoint — whether or not the old box ever talks to you or not."

The awards also are an effort by the academy to keep pace with what viewers see in TV, and increasingly, that isn't centered on a single screen, said Charlie Jablonski, head of the academy's technical awards committee.

"Looking at where products are coming from, what people are doing, what people are demanding — now is the time to look at these new media technologies and how they affect what people see and get in their use environments," Jablonski said.

It is also a strategic move that keeps the academy relevant in an increasingly digital world. Price noted a good number of the academy's new members are younger than age 30 and heavily involved in digital media production, and he pointed to the inclusion of these two awards as a major draw.

"I think what it has done is given people a lot of reason to join us," he said.

For the new media players, it provides a chance at legitimacy and the recognition an Emmy award would bring.

"I think part of the allure to the new-media community is that the established people with the names and reputations and the closet full of Emmy awards are welcoming them, recognizing them, giving them credentials, if you will, that by themselves — they could have those meetings, but they wouldn't be as important as engaging the establishment," Price said.

There also doesn't appear to be a shortage of candidates, despite the fact that the Internet bust has wiped out more than a few interactive and new-media content providers.

"I have a funny feeling our problem is going to be winnowing the nominees down to the best in the class for the year, because there is such a pent-up enthusiasm," Jablonski said. "This is what the industry is, and has become. It is our contention this change is well under way – we're late probably in recognizing it."

"We're late, but fortunately not that far behind the curve," Price added. Still, the fact the academy did jump to the new awards categories speaks to its flexibility, in recognizing "if we don't do something for the next generation of television professionals, that probably we are going to come up short."