Apple, with a bet on streaming, gets a shock from the Emmys. Disney gets a boost.
Then Tuesday happened.
As Emmys voters announced their 2020 nomination choices, Disney Plus was surprisingly placed in the most elite television company: its “Star Wars” origin series “The Mandalorian” was nominated for the Emmys’ top prize of outstanding drama series, defying the predictions of an army of pundits and consultants.
And Apple, which spent a whopping $150 million to produce the TV-world drama “The Morning Show” and was thought a lock for outstanding drama? It ended up shut out, startling those same pundits and consultants.
The developments underscore how streaming has upended the old rules of television and its line between prestige and commercial entities. Even more important, they threw curveballs to two of America’s most prominent companies.
At a time of darkness for Disney, its movies out of theaters and theme parks embattled, the conglomerate was granted a major gift: a place at the table at television’s most exclusive club and a chance to bill its heavily capitalized streaming service as more than just a destination for Disneyheads.
For Apple, on the other hand, the news was a harsh and potentially strategy-changing reminder that the money and brand ubiquity that has helped it come to dominate the tech sector isn’t having close to the same impact in Hollywood.
Apple’s unveiling of “The Morning Show” came with much fanfare last fall. The company paid a “Game of Thrones”-like $15 million per episode to enlist the services of Steve Carell, Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, a cast with 17 Emmy nominations between them; Witherspoon is also an Oscar winner.
Though reviews were sometimes inconsistent, the highly decorated cast and creators, as well as the major awards campaign staged by the company, made many pundits put it on their frontrunner lists based on surveys of voters.
But when the Emmys nominations came around, voters left the show off the list for best drama, and even some acting categories. (Carell and Aniston received nominations; Witherspoon did not.) Other high-profile Apple TV Plus shows, from the science-fiction action-adventure “See” to the alternate space-race story “For All Mankind,” did not land any nominations; a few other productions landed smaller nominations.
Equally important, it highlighted that Apple may need to change its approach. The firm has been attempting to produce a fairly small amount of content but at the highest echelon, a quality over quantity tack that sets it apart from many digital competitors.
But that only works with a high number of arrows hitting the bullseye, not when your best shot misses the big prize.
“I think they’re in a very difficult situation,” said Mikey Campbell, a close chronicler of Apple and editor of the watchdog site Apple Insider. “They’ve had a slow drip of content but it’s not always getting acclaim, and they’re not always getting subscribers.”
Short of an acquisition that would bring in a large supply of content, he said, it’s not clear what Apple can do to change up the game quickly. But s—lightly more commercial approaches are possible. The company may have tipped its hand in that direction several weeks ago when it agreed to pay more than $100 million for a Will Smith thriller.
Campbell said Apple TV Plus’s recent month-long extension of a three-month free promotion suggested it may not be getting the subscriber numbers it wanted. The company has not revealed subscriber numbers for the service.
Apple and Disney spokespeople did not comment for this story.
For Disney, the news of a major “Mandalorian” nomination could not be better — or come at a more welcome time.
The “Mandalorian” news — the “Baby Yoda” show notched 15 nominations overall will help the service, continue to recruit new customers, much in the way Netflix rode its Emmys momentum from “House of Cards” early in its existence to build a large subscriber base. At most recent count, Disney Plus had 55 million subscribers.
Disney now also has an easy opportunity to promote the service on the Emmys telecast, which will be aired on Disney-owned ABC on Sept. 20.
Meanwhile, the second season of “The Mandalorian,” which was shot before the lockdown, is set to debut before the end of 2020. Experts say the Emmys attention might make people who otherwise wouldn’t have paid attention start to tune in.
“I think it’ll help them, especially in the runup to the second season,” said Josh Spiegel, a writer and frequent chronicler of Disney.
The nomination will also provide a rare bright spot when the company announces earnings next week, with revenue totals expected to be dismal for the most recent quarter.
“Star Wars” has not been an awards-contending property in many decades. It has not won an Oscar in 37 years and not had a live-action Emmy nomination in 35 years. And even then, many nominations were in technical categories.
The news, then, is a shot for the Lucasfilm division behind the property, which Disney bought for $4 billion in 2012. After early film successes, though, the unit has struggled. “Solo” underperformed in 2018, the future direction of the film properties is uncertain and a combination of creative and covid concerns last week led to the next film being pushed from Dec 2022 to December 2023.
“The Mandalorian,” which has become both a viral meme sensation and a topic of social-media conversation, provides a way forward. And it does so by joining a group whose past winners includes “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” But Spiegel cautioned against too much optimism given Disney’s other issues.
Looking to the success of “The Mandalorian” to save Disney, he said, might place “too many eggs in Baby Yoda’s basket.”