Netflix’s Success Could Revolutionize SAG Awards Season! Find Out How!

As the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards celebrates its 30th anniversary this Saturday, the winners won’t have to rush through their acceptance speeches due to advertising time constraints. Likewise, viewers won’t need to time their restroom visits or snack breaks around commercial breaks.

The reason? For the first time, the SAG Awards will be broadcast without commercials, streaming live on Netflix.

Regarded as an essential precursor to the Oscars and voted by over 119,000 members of the actors’ union, the SAG Awards’ move to Netflix, boasting 260 million global subscribers, is a significant leap. This transformation follows years of struggling to achieve substantial viewership on cable television.

“This is a landmark for what began as a humble endeavor 30 shows ago,” comments actor JoBeth Williams, the chair of the SAG Awards Committee. “This new format is exciting for us and aligns with current trends and what audiences want to watch.”

Last year, the SAG Awards streamed live on Netflix’s YouTube and social media channels, attracting approximately 1.5 million viewers. By hosting the event directly on Netflix, with its extensive outreach and formidable promotional prowess, the streaming giant has the potential to expose the SAG Awards to a considerably larger audience than ever before.

With shrinking broadcast viewership, other award shows have also sought homes on streaming platforms, such as the Academy of Country Music Awards on Prime Video. However, as the first significant film and TV awards show to be live-streamed by a major platform, the SAG Awards’ shift to Netflix may indicate upcoming changes for the entire awards show industry, including the Oscars.

“This sets a new standard for this type of show,” explains Jon Brockett, executive producer of the Screen Actors Guild Awards. “If others adopt streaming as a format, then so be it. Our main objective is always to engage the audience and provide an entertaining show.”

The producers of the show believe that the transition to streaming will infuse the event with more momentum and allow for greater freedom in its format.

Mark Bracco, one of the show’s producers, explains that traditionally, after someone wins an award and a Steadicam follows them offstage, it’s time to cut to a commercial. “We don’t have to do that. We’re thrilled to offer interstitials where we can follow the winner backstage and give the viewers a behind-the-scenes experience.”

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The search for a new home for the SAG Awards began in 2022 when TNT indicated it would not renew its licensing agreement to air the show. The SAG Awards had been on TNT since 1998, but viewership was declining, with a minor spike in 2022. That year, the show received 1.84 million combined viewers on TBS and TNT, according to Nielsen.

Broadcasting the SAG Awards is the latest in a series of live events hosted by Netflix to draw large audiences to its platform for simultaneous viewing. Past live events include Chris Rock’s live comedy special and the celebrity golf tournament, “The Netflix Cup.”

Brandon Riegg, Netflix’s vice president of nonfiction series, expressed his excitement at a recent press event. “This award show is the most public-facing and public-friendly. It showcases celebrities and favorite shows and movies on a global platform. Live streaming is a great tool for diversifying our content—it applies to all our content genres.”

However, the timing of the partnership is a bit awkward. This year’s SAG Awards come after a challenging summer of dual Hollywood strikes led by writers and actors, some of whom picketed outside Netflix offices daily. Major issues of the strike involved data transparency among streaming services and how they compensate writers for hit shows. Some even referred to the labor action as the “Netflix strike.”

Planning for this year’s SAG Awards was stalled during the work stoppage. “As the show’s producers, we had to go into hibernation during this period because we didn’t know if the show would proceed,” says Williams.

Now that the strike has ended, Williams believes union members are ready to put any residual concerns about Netflix aside and move forward. “I don’t expect negative feedback about the show being on Netflix,” she states. “Once the strike was resolved, we resumed work with Netflix, and they’ve been very cooperative and collaborative. Naturally, we all have to work with the people we’ve been striking against—that’s the nature of our business.”

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According to two unauthorized sources familiar with the deal, Netflix paid SAG-AFTRA around $7 million to license the SAG Awards as part of their multiyear agreement.

“This is inaccurate,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement to The Times, without disclosing any details about the agreement. SAG-AFTRA also declined to comment on the deal’s terms.

Analysts believe that the partnership could benefit both parties.

“If they can demonstrate a significant increase in viewership compared to last year on YouTube, what’s stopping them from approaching the Producers Guild Awards or even the Independent Spirit Awards?” posits Travis Knox, an associate professor of producing at Chapman University. “If Netflix can legitimize it and attract a larger audience, they might have created a new niche.”

Brandon Katz, an industry strategist at Parrot Analytics, notes that about 58% of Netflix’s U.S. audience is aged 13 to 29. “This offers a chance to bridge that gap, potentially convert some remaining older linear subscribers into streaming subscribers, and possibly introduce the SAG Awards to a slightly younger audience.”

“For the SAG Awards’ longevity and cultural relevance, moving to Netflix is probably a better decision than staying on TNT as pay TV’s decline continues to speed up,” he adds.

It’s uncertain how many people will watch the SAG Awards live; the show will remain on the platform for 28 days after streaming, and some viewers may choose to watch it later. Regardless, some industry observers claim there’s increased buzz around this year’s SAG Awards, partly because it’s on Netflix.

Katz points out that licensed linear series such as “Breaking Bad” and “Suits,” as well as canceled linear shows that Netflix revived like “Lucifer” and “Manifest,” have all benefited from the “Netflix bump.” “Ultimately, Netflix is the largest global TV network, which seemingly offers a lot of programming advantages.”

Netflix intends to promote the SAG Awards in the same way it promotes other live events. The platform uses users’ viewing history to recommend and promote trailers.

However, live streaming a show presents significant technical challenges. Both Netflix and SAG are keen to avoid the technical glitches that marred last year’s reunion episode of the reality dating show “Love Is Blind.” The episode was highly anticipated, but streaming issues led to its cancellation, leaving many viewers to wait until the next day to watch a recorded version.

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A Netflix executive referred to the “Love Is Blind” reunion debacle as a “humbling moment” in a December interview with The Times. He added that the company has been working on enhancing its technical capabilities and has learned from that experience.

The SAG Awards’ production team is confident that the show will proceed smoothly and bring a much-needed modern touch to a format struggling to keep up with changing times.

Baz Halpin, one of the show’s producers, says, “The SAG Awards is incredibly unique—it’s by actors, for actors. We aim to create a magical and elegant atmosphere from the moment the guests arrive. Hosting the first live show on Netflix feels like the perfect evolution of award shows. Netflix is known for taking bold strides and aiming high.”

Stephen Battaglio, a Times staff writer, contributed to this report.

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