The Quality Divide: You Need Money to See Better TV

By Steve Safran 

atvWant award-winning TV? It’s going to cost you. The 2016 Emmy Awards were given across a spectrum of television platforms and that’s encouraging. Who would have thought, even a couple of years ago, that Netflix would take home nine Emmys? But the awards point us to a fact we can’t ignore. If you want to see quality television, you have to pay for a lot of services.

In total, including the creative arts awards that weren’t shown on the telecast, there were 93 Emmy awards. HBO took 22 of those. FX Networks won 18. Netflix and Amazon combined for 15. The only broadcast channel in that neighborhood was PBS, which won eight awards, only two of which were featured in the telecast. ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CW combined for 21 wins—one fewer than HBO by itself.

In the categories that people talk about—those that made the actual Emmy Awards show—the broadcast networks combined for just six Emmys out of 31.


So, much as there was a discussion of the Digital Divide at the onset of the internet era, there is now a Quality Divide. And to bridge that divide, you need a good chunk of  money.

To see award-winning television, you now need premium cable, and subscriptions to Netflix and Amazon. That can add up to $150 a month or more, depending on your provider and bundle. If you can’t afford all that, you’re looking at what the networks will give you—shows that aren’t bad, but which are rarely groundbreaking. Even with a basic cable subscription, there’s still a divide between you and those who can afford the best stuff.

“You get what you pay for” is, of course, one retort; If I pay for premium content I should get premium quality.  But that’s letting the broadcast networks off the hook. The networks invented the mini-series. “The People vs O.J. Simpson” could have been a network event. “Mr. Robot” and “Making a Murderer” would have been great on the networks. They are being left behind by cable channels willing to take risks and services like Netflix and Amazon that have different business models.

Is the Quality Divide a huge crisis? No. But it does mean people are missing out, often on the most innovative and forward-thinking programs. This is being called a new Golden Age of Television. It’s just too bad it takes so much gold to watch it.