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Netflix's Emmy spotlight lifts status of online shows

A Netflix App icon is shown on an iPad in Encinitas, California, April 19,2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A Netflix App icon is shown on an iPad in Encinitas, California, April 19,2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Emmy recognition for Netflix Inc elevated the stature of programming delivered solely over the Internet, a field that is attracting the biggest names in Silicon Valley and a roster of A-list Hollywood stars.

Coming later this year, Amazon.com Inc will release political series "Alpha House" starring John Goodman, one of five original shows watchable only on its Prime Instant Video service. Hulu's streaming site will feature the voice of Eva Longoria as a former music executive turned suburban mom on animated comedy "Mother Up!"

In the past, Emmy recognition has bestowed an added layer of legitimacy on a program. Time Warner Inc's HBO enjoyed its greatest buzz after "The Sopranos" was first nominated in 1999, prompting a wave of other well-received shows including "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Entourage" and "Boardwalk Empire."

"The Emmys staged a media revolution by welcoming streaming video to the party," said Tom O'Neil, an awards handicapper for the Gold Derby website.

"The Emmys are establishment Hollywood, which means it's conservative and its tendency is to shut out what's new and keep the riff-raff at bay."

The 14 Emmy nominations for Netflix shows, including best drama, actor and actress nods for political thriller "House of Cards," are the first showing by online series in major categories. The recognition proved online distributors can compete with the quality found on cable heavyweights like HBO and Showtime and on the big broadcasters.

Smaller Internet players have been gearing up to create full-length programming. Google-backed Machinima, which appeals to 18- to 34-year-old male "fan boys" who play video games and read comic books, has begun talks with Hollywood studios to produce 44-minute programs or possibly become investors, several sources told Reuters.

Hollywood's top talent is open to series delivered online if the platform can attract a large audience, said Modi Wiczyk, co-CEO of Media Rights Capital, the independent studio that produced "House of Cards" for Netflix, which boasts 29 million subscribers in the United States.

"Certainly a lot of other services have entered the discussions," Wiczyk said. "Artists ask, 'how many people can see my work if I do a good job?'"

Even with the Netflix breakthrough, online video series have a long way to go to reach the level of honors received by premium cable network HBO, which 20 years ago was the upstart that burst into the Emmy party dominated by broadcast networks.

For the 13th straight year, HBO led all networks with 108 nominations for a stable of shows including "Game of Thrones," "Girls," "The Newsroom" and "Boardwalk Empire."

Among broadcasters, ABC and CBS led the pack with 53 nominations each.

(Additional reporting by Eric Kelsey in Los Angeles; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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