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Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus face off for Emmy milestone glory

No streaming service has won a major Emmy in its first year. Tonight, two will try. Victory means a boost in the streaming wars. But leaving empty-handed? The stakes are highest for Apple.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Joan E. Solsman
4 min read

The Emmys award ceremony is Sunday. 

Getty Images

By now, streaming services' domination of the Emmy Awards is nothing new. But no streaming service has ever won a major Emmy before it even hit its first birthday. This year, two will try 

Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus both launched last November. Both notched primetime Emmy nominations for their original programming in big categories. And both could take home statues before the night is out. 

Emmy success for such young streaming services could mean a fresh gust of wind in their sails, as they grapple with competitors for your attention. The so-called "streaming wars" have launched a raft of new services over the last year, pitting upstarts like Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, HBO Max and Peacock against giants like NetflixAmazon Prime Video and others. 


The Mandalorian, and its viral character known as Baby Yoda, were breakout hits for Disney Plus. 

Lucasfilm Ltd.

But if Disney and Apple end Sunday's ceremony empty-handed, the perception varies widely between them. For Disney Plus, missing out on any big Emmy wins means little more than a shoulder shrug. For Apple TV Plus, it could be a deflating black eye for a service that bet billions on a strategy of making prestige TV. 

Streaming services began taking command of Emmy awards years ago. Netflix was nominated for its first Emmys in 2013 -- and won one. The coveted best-drama award, considered by some as Emmys' top prize, first went to a streaming service in 2017, for Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale. And a year later, Netflix broke HBO's 17-year streak as the Emmy powerhouse, garnering the most nominations each year. 

Netflix, now the world's biggest TV-streaming service with more than 192 million subscribers,  not only bested HBO again this year -- it set a record for the most nominations by a single network, with 160 nods. 

But streaming TV's climb to legitimacy meant earlier services spent years doing legwork to get widening recognition by the Television Academy. Until this year, no service had been nominated for an Emmy within its first year, like Apple and Disney were. 

Going into the awards ceremonies, Apple and Disney were on nearly equal footing for nominations. Disney Plus accumulated 19 total nods; Apple TV Plus, 18. But the best-drama nominations delivered the biggest surprise. Disney Plus' Star Wars series The Mandalorian was nominated for the top award, reportedly without Disney making any effort to lobby to earn a nod for its breakout hit in that category.  

Meanwhile, Apple TV Plus bet billions on a strategy of making the kind of big-budget, prestige programming that's typically awards bait. The Morning Show, Apple's marquee drama with a reported $200 million budget for 20 total episodes, earned acting nominations for Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Billy Crudup and Mark Duplass. But none of Apple's programs got that best-drama nomination like The Mandalorian did. 


Apple's The Morning Show starred Jennifer Aniston, earning her an acting Emmy nomination. 


Already, Disney Plus is ahead of Apple TV Plus in their Emmy race, in one manner of speaking. Out of its 19 total nominations, Disney Plus has already won six statues. 

The Creative Arts Emmys -- which award more behind-the-camera accomplishments and short-form TV -- have been doled out over the course of the last week. The Mandalorian racked up seven awards, for special visual effects, cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing, production design, music composition and stunt coordination. Disney Plus' eighth award was in the category for animated short-form series, which it won for its Toy Story 4 spin-off show Forky Asks a Question. 

So far, through the Creative Arts Emmys, Apple hasn't won any. Its documentary Beastie Boys Story, for example, had been up for several Emmys handed out over the last few days but won none so far. 

But the Emmys set to be awarded Sunday's night are the best known and most prestigious. And crucially, they're the one most important for getting the attention of viewers for a new service and generating popular buzz. 

The water-cooler chatter that big awards bring could be important as Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus approach the ends of their inaugural years. 

For Disney, The Mandalorian's second season will debut at the end of October, and big Emmys could help slingshot the series to a wider audience. Disney Plus has already been an unqualified success, garnering 60.5 million subscribers in less than nine months, but its popularity is hottest in households with children. Emmys could help establish it as a service with top-shelf, must-see programming for wider audiences. 

For Apple, Emmy recognition would be even more significant. The awards will come just six weeks before a large portion of Apple TV Plus' subscriber base must decide whether to start paying for the service or drop it. Apple launched TV Plus with a one-year free trial for anyone who buys a new Apple gadget. The first wave of those extended free trials will run out Nov. 1.

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