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Online Emmy Screeners ‘Jittery’

Academy of Television Arts and Sciences members, for the first time ever, were able to watch “For Your Consideration” screener episodes on a Web site this year before casting their votes to decide which shows and persons were nominated. But the system had some bugs that will have to be worked out next year.

Problems with the site included a failure to launch until late May, months after traditional DVD screeners had been mailed out. And the site was set up to offer HD feeds, but most voters’ computers were engineered for standard-definition streams.

“The playback was a bit jittery,” ATAS executive John Leverence said. Next year, he added, the technological issues will be ironed out, with plans for postproduction companies to help optimize the streaming.

Many executives like the concept even it’s not perfected. “I think it was a smart idea,” said Katherine Pope, president of Universal Media Studios. “The technology needs to mature. I don’t think anybody was expecting quite the amount of material that was posted up there. I think next year you’ll see it really solidify, and over the next couple of years, it will likely go completely in that direction.”

Next year, the Academy will crack down on the amount of promotional material that can accompany a DVD mailing, which ought to make a difference.

Studios’ eagerness to participate in the Academy’s first-ever screener site was mixed because they didn’t want to give up the marketing opportunities that come with a traditional DVD mailing. But CBS Paramount dipped a toe in, posting two reality series. It also offered most of its shows on its own dedicated site.

This year’s Emmy nominations will no doubt show the effect of the writers’ strike, which forced networks to postpone or discontinue popular series. NBC’s Heroes, for example, aired no new episodes after December, and Pope was positive that it will hurt the show when the awards are given out Sept. 21. (The awards will be telecast on ABC.)

“Yup, I absolutely do,” she added. “This definitely was an unusual year in terms of shows being on and then being off for long periods of time.”

Heroes, a nominee for outstanding drama series last year, failed to make the top 10 finalists this time around. Other series that may have lost nominations due to the strike include previous winner 24 -- Fox opted simply not to air the show.

Nonetheless, anticipation is building that AMC’s Mad Men and FX’s Damages will make the final five for outstanding drama, putting either one step closer to becoming the first basic-cable series to win that category.

FX chief John Landgraf said he was skeptical about their chances for nomination, saying, “I think it will be zero or at the most one -- that would be my guess.” Landgraf, an Academy board member, cited issues with the voting that he said still favors broadcast and pay-cable networks.

Added Charlie Collier, executive vice president and general manager of AMC, “I have heard that statistically, it’s a difficult thing, but we haven’t really focused on that.”