Never underestimate HBO during awards season. The pay-cable stalwart was the winningest network at the 2020 Emmy Awards Sunday night, topping streaming rivals including Netflix.
Prestigious programming led by "Watchmen" and "Succession" propelled AT&T-owned HBO to a total of 30 trophies, including creative arts Emmys doled out during the week before the main broadcast. The darkly prescient superhero drama "Watchmen" won for limited series and the media mogul saga "Succession" topped for drama series.
Netflix scored 21 statuettes, including major awards for drug drama "Ozark" and miniseries "Unorthodox" given out during the telecast. Julia Garner won supporting actress for "Ozark," while Maria Schrader won for directing "Unorthodox," about a young woman who escapes her Hasidic Jewish community in Williamsburg, N.Y.
HBO's awards season success is a welcome affirmation for the premium pay TV network, which now shoulders the burden of carrying the brand identity and beating heart of its parent company's most important initiative: streaming service HBO Max. The streamer, which costs $15 a month, got off to a sluggish start when it launched in May.
Los Gatos-based Netflix came into Emmys week with a record 160 total nominations, ahead of HBO's 107 nods. Netflix's surge in nominations, though, came with the caveat that it produces way more shows than its AT&T-owned rival, which takes a more bespoke approach to industry dominance.
Awards such as the Emmys don't exist just as coveted bragging rights for networks and streaming services. Especially for streamers like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, winning prestigious awards is a way to stand out among a growing number of well-funded competitors jockeying for viewers. Getting onto the Emmy stage is a good way for a new player - like Disney+ or Quibi - to signal to the industry that they've arrived.
For HBO, it's about maintaining its position as the industry's beacon of quality programming. HBO became a subsidiary of Dallas-based AT&T in 2018 when the phone company acquired Time Warner Inc., which was rebranded as WarnerMedia.
At the time, analysts worried that the parent company's demand for more programming from HBO would dilute its boutique brand and that the exit of key executives would hurt the the network's prospects.
And yet, HBO has continued to produce critically acclaimed programming including "Watchmen," set in an alternate reality in Tulsa, Oklahoma in which masked vigilantes are outlawed.
The acclaimed racially themed Damon Lindelof-created show won awards including limited series, lead actress (Regina King) and supporting actor (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).