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Binge watching may have democratized awards nominations

Donald Iain Smith | Getty Images

At last year's Emmys, the biggest buzz of the night wasn't reserved for traditional networks. Netflix and Amazon dominated the nominations, with 34 and 12, respectively. Shows like "Transparent," "Orange is the New Black" and "House of Cards" took center stage.

The phenomenon of binge watching isn't just changing the way we watch TV. It may be opening up the door for smaller and nontraditional networks to take home prestigious awards.

This year's nominations are being announced at 11:30 a.m. ET Thursday.

"These are programs that exist on services on demand," said Sam Toles, vice president of global content for Vimeo. "You can tune into them and engage with them at your leisure. It isn't dictated by 'You have to tune in at such and such a time and place,' hunting and pecking at this environment of content. It's making discovery easier."

More people are watching new shows when they want, making them more excited to talk about these shows with their friends, Toles said.

That word of mouth marketing can be more effective than any "For Your Consideration" ad campaigns run to get attention from Academy of Television Arts & Sciences members who vote for nominees. If everyone is talking about it, they're more likely to want to watch the shows, too.

"Binge watching gave these new programs more attention than they would have gotten in a quicker way," said Josh Engroff, chief digital media officer for Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners' media agency The Media Kitchen.

What’s your Binge?

Binge watching behavior is more widespread than ever. A March study by Deloitte of 2,205 consumers representative of the U.S. population showed that 70 percent binge watch TV shows, with each session lasting about five episodes. A little shy of half subscribed to streaming video services. Millennials, in particular, watched more streaming services than live TV.

It's not just U.S. consumers. A survey in April by Nielsen of 30,000 consumers in 61 countries found that 66 percent of respondents liked video on demand because they enjoyed watching multiple episodes in one sitting. Millennials and Gen Xers were the most likely to share this sentiment, but almost half of respondents regardless of age felt the same way.

Toles said it's not just shows created by streaming services and digital networks that are getting bonus marketing from binge watching. Because so many traditional TV shows end up on these services, they can gain recognition after their debut seasons.

He argued that AMC's "Breaking Bad" really gave a boost to Netflix from new fans trying to catch up with earlier seasons. He himself became a "Homeland" fan after seeing the first season on Amazon and found himself subscribing to to keep up to date.

"The services that are offering full series for binge watching in that second window let people catch up," Toles said. "It's created an interesting pathway for that customer."

Engroff argues that more attention is just one aspect of getting a show nominated. It has to actually be good. He believes what's more important is that we're seeing digital networks and cable companies coming out with quality content that rivals traditional networks.

"The whole award process is top down, and it's skewed and objective," he said. "I think binge watching is irrelevant to it. It's a mode of consumption that elevates that show to public consciousness, but it's separate from the quality of the show."

Toles, however, believes binge watching has more of an effect. He said the behavior makes the discovery of shows easier because you pick what you watch — whether the program had the backing of a major network or not.

A series like Vimeo's "High Maintenance," which would have never started on a major network, can get the attention of top executives and awards committees. The show went from user uploaded content to becoming a Vimeo funded series, and now will debut its first "television" season this year for HBO.

"I think what the most special thing about (Vimeo) is [is] that you can get attention for your work and be brought into the Hollywood ecosystem," Toles said. "It's democratized the process for people, since they are able to upload their own content."

Donald Iain Smith | Getty Images