The four major television networks are expected to offer a bid today of at least $5 million annually to continue broadcasting the Emmy Awards under a shared arrangement, industry sources say. That would leave the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to choose between the networks' or a higher bid from Home Box Office heading into tonight's scheduled board meeting.
If the nonprofit organization accepts the networks' fee, it would forgo millions from cable TV powerhouse HBO, whose $10-million-a-year proposal -- matching the academy's asking price -- surfaced Monday.
If HBO telecasts the show it would move the Emmys off broadcast television for the first time, and the Academy may face reprisals -- including a possible network boycott -- that could jeopardize its future.
If the latter scenario sounds like an Emmy-worthy melodrama, those who know Emmy history say the threat is real. CBS, a unit of Viacom Inc., already has warned that it will withdraw any support from the academy should the North Hollywood-based group pick HBO -- just as the networks retaliated when the academy struck exclusive deals with News Corp.'s young Fox network in 1987 and ABC in the early 1990s. HBO is owned by AOL Time Warner Inc.
Although the networks spend more for similar programming, including award shows such as the Grammys and Oscars, they have long been reluctant to significantly increase an Emmy fee that the academy says undervalues the television industry's top award -- a showcase that reliably attracts millions of viewers each September.
Historically, however, the only way to secure a sizable raise has been to break from the current format, in which the networks take turns broadcasting the show, and court a single buyer.
That could unleash threats from the networks, including the prospect of establishing a competing awards show and seeking to dissuade their talent from attending.
Ultimately, the decision will rest with the academy's board of governors, which consists of volunteers representing each of 27 industry peer groups -- from makeup/hairstylists and sound editors to actors, writers and directors, many of whom work on programs carried by the major networks.
Network officials and academy insiders have expressed concern that the fate of the organization -- whose image within the industry has suffered at times because of internal infighting and politics -- could hang in the balance.
"If the networks withdraw, this really could be the end of the Emmys as we know them," said one former governor, on condition of anonymity.
ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox have broadcast the Emmys on a rotating basis since 1994, paying about $3 million annually -- a fraction of the $50 million that ABC pays for the Oscars and $25 million CBS shells out for the Grammys, though those presenting bodies cover their respective production costs.
Still, the networks thus far had offered only a nominal increase -- sources say between 10% and 15% -- to extend the agreement.