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2017 Emmy Awards: Hulu's Big Win Spotlights Future of Digital

At an awards show originally created to honor television, a show that isn't even on TV took home the night's top honor.
Image: The cast and crew of \"The Handmaid's Tale\" accept the award for Outstanding Drama Series
The cast and crew of "The Handmaid's Tale" accept the award for Outstanding Drama Series during the 69th Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sept. 17, 2017 in Los Angeles.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images

At Sunday's 2017 Emmy Awards, a show originally created to honor television, studios that don't even air their shows on TV continue to command center stage.

Netflix and Amazon may have generated the bulk of the buzz, but by the end of the night, it was Hulu and its hit "The Handmaid's Tale" that came out the big — and historic — winner.

Hulu became the first internet streaming service to take home the Emmy for "Outstanding Drama Series."

What's Different

"I think there is more storytelling going on. It's just the delivery mechanism is changing," said Paul Verna, principal analyst at eMarketer.

Related: Highlights From the 2017 Emmy Awards

This year, 22.2 million Americans will cut the cord on traditional cable and satellite services in favor of other ways to consume content, such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV and Sling TV. That's up 33 percent from last year.

Satellite and cable are still an important part of many Americans' lives, with 196.3 million people paying for traditional television service this year.

What Isn't

"People still love one-hour dramas and half-hour sitcoms and news and sports. That hasn't changed at all," Verna said.

HBO, which came in to the Emmy awards with the most nominations this year, also walked away with the most trophies. The cable network scooped up 10 awards for "Big Little Lies," "Veep," and "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver."

And for the first time ever, Hulu bested streaming leader Netflix, winning five trophies. Netflix took home four.

The Cost of a Click

When it comes to producing the best content that will win awards, it certainly doesn't hurt if the studio has deep pockets. Last year, Netflix spent $6 billion to produce 600 hours of content, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Netflix has nearly doubled its nominations each year since becoming the first internet streaming network to be nominated for Emmy awards, in 2013.

However, Hulu could be spending more per subscriber than its chief rivals, Netflix and Amazon. Last year, Hulu revealed it had 12 million subscribers and planned to spend $2.5 billion on content for 2017. If it hasn't grown substantially since then, the company is likely spending more than $200 per subscriber, according to Variety. That's significantly more than the $60 per subscriber Netflix spends.

While plenty of people are likely to want to check out "The Handmaid's Tale" after its big Emmy night, internet streaming shows are not necessarily the primary reason people are cutting the cord on traditional television, Verna said.

Cord cutting "doesn't signal a shift in what people want to watch. It's how they want to watch," he said. Television continues to remain an important part of peoples' lives — with the ratio of television to digital video viewing slightly shrinking to 3 to 1 by 2019, Verna estimated.

The era of internet streaming networks dominating the awards shows — and jockeying for eyeballs — just means everyone has to work harder, Verna said.

"It brings more and more competition."

It could also be upping the stakes for content. Backstage, writer and showrunner Bruce Miller spoke of the streaming station’s "incredible bravery" in pushing forward with his ideas, said the Hollywood Reporter.

“I was sure they were going to say, 'There's no way you can do that on television,' and they were always enthusiastic and encouraging," he said.

“There's nothing old hat about making drama at Hulu,” he said.