SAG Awards mystery: Did sending DVD screeners help Netflix dominate TV races?

Netflix had a great night at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning four of the eight categories in which they were nominated. Even more impressively, they went four for five in categories for which they sent out DVD screeners. Although commonplace for film studios, Netflix was the only television “network” to mail DVDs to the general SAG-AFTRA membership. They sent the complete eligible seasons of “The Crown” (winner of Best Drama Actor for John Lithgow and Best Drama Actress for Claire Foy), “Orange is the New Black” (winner of Best Comedy Ensemble) and “Stranger Things” (winner of Best Drama Ensemble).

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Shipping DVDs to voters has been an essential part of campaigning for Oscars as well as precursors like the SAG Awards for film, but campaigning for television awards has only ramped up in recent years. Pete Hammond of Gold Derby sister site Deadline posed the question last summer of whether Emmy campaigning had grown to surpass that of the Oscars; signs of that awards thirst are spilling over to the SAG television races and seem to be yielding the desired results. Netflix held a leading 14 screenings for the nominating committee in the fall, each complete with question-and-answer sessions with talent, then reaped a leading 17 nominations across eight of the nine television categories.

Perhaps sending DVDs en masse helped “The Crown” become the first series to win both Best Actor and Actress for its debut season since “The Sopranos” for 1999. Perhaps it drove the upsets in the ensemble categories — neither “Stranger Things” nor “Orange is the New Black” was favored to win by Gold Derby’s odds. “Stranger Things” actually ranked fourth in the aggregate predictions of our Experts, Editors and Users.

‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Orange is the New Black’ win SAG Awards

It is also noteworthy that the night’s two biggest upsets, based on odds, came in two categories in which voters received no DVDs for any of the contenders’ work. In these categories, voters passed over performances that had been honored by multiple other awards shows for performances that had not been awarded by any. Visibility issues would explain how SAG defaulted to the biggest names in Best Movie/Limited Actor and Best Comedy Actor, as voters might have felt more comfortable checking off names that they at least knew were capable of great performances. Oscar-nominated actor Bryan Cranston (“All the Way”) overcame 50-to-1 odds, as well as Emmy- and Critics’ Choice-winning performances from Sterling K. Brown (“The People v. O.J. Simpson”) and Courtney B. Vance (“The People v. O.J. Simpson”). Fellow Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy (“Shameless”) defied 40-to-1 odds, as well as Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”) and Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”) in their multiple Emmy- and Critics’ Choice-winning roles.

The sole non-DVD winner in a category with DVDs was Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”) over Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black”) for Best Comedy Actress, which was one of two categories — the other being Best Drama Actress — for which all nominees’ seasons were made available for SAG voters in physical or digital form. HBO, Netflix and USA provided access to all of their nominated seasons online for voters.

Sarah Paulson completes sweep for “The People v. O.J. Simpson”

Although Netflix was the only network to mail DVDs to general membership of 160,000 for voting on the winners, 14 more networks mailed DVDs to the television nominating committee of 2500. USA was among them; HBO was one of 13 networks to provide digital access. AMC (Stunt Ensemble nominee for “The Walking Dead”) mailed DVDs; NBC (Drama Actor nominee for Sterling K. Brown of “This is Us”) and PBS (Drama Ensemble nominee for “The Walking Dead”) made their shows available online. CBS mailed DVDs, but did not include their one show that ultimately received a nomination: “The Big Bang Theory” (Comedy Ensemble nominee).

Although ABC held a screening in Los Angeles for “American Crime” (Movie/Limited Actress nominee for Felicity Huffman), they did not provide physical or digital screeners to SAG at any point in voting for any of their shows (five nominations between “American Crime,” “Black-ish” and “Modern Family”). FX seemed to forego campaigning entirely, yet reaped three nominations for “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” including a win (Movie/Limited Actress for Sarah Paulson).

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