NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When a glitzy awards ceremony meant to point out the best of the TV starts out with an entreaty to get people to "put down your remote," you know something's out of whack.
The TV-industry's annual celebratory Emmy awards took on a fearful tone last night as celebrities and presenters cited the many technological threats that are eating away at the medium's longtime dominance of the media landscape.
During an opening musical number, host Neil Patrick Harris urged viewers to "put down your remote," suggesting that every note from his pipes represented a "not to be TiVo-ed kiss." He also told the TV audience to not "jump online" as last night's action demanded a big, high-definition screen.
Mr. Harris wasn't the only one finding laughs in the gradual decline of the industry being feted. Comediennes Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Tina Fey also mined TV's troubles for good material.
"Amy [Poehler] and I are honored to be presenting on the last official year of network broadcast TV," Ms. Louis-Dreyfus said before awarding one of the night's comedy honors. Upon winning an award for her comedy "30 Rock," Ms. Fey thanked the Peacock network "for keeping us on the air even though we are so much more expensive than a talk show" -- a direct response to NBC's decision to give five hours of its prime time schedule to a five-nights-a-week talk show hosted by Jay Leno.
The show even included a very direct acknowledgment of the appeal of online video but also highlighted its limitations. The skit was based on "Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog," in which Mr. Harris starred. The conceit was that Dr. Horrible/Harris had interrupted the proceedings to declare traditional TV dead, and that it was much better to watch video without any interruptions. Except just as he uttered that line, the screen froze, and the word "buffering" covered his face. The bit also compared watching a TV-sized image to the experience of watching a much tinier version online.
TV's troubles have been dissected and turned over for months. The emergence of digital media has given rise to any number of smaller venues aimed at niche interests. Meanwhile, increased penetration of digital video recorders allows TV viewers to skip past the commercials that keep many of their favorite programs free to view. TV networks have made many efforts to become part of the digital diaspora, but it remains unclear whether the revenue they make in such areas will help offset the consumer exodus from the living-room couch.
The jokes came even as the Emmy broadcast managed to top last year's. Early estimates suggest last night's telecast drew approximately 13.3 million people, about 1 million more than last year's show, which was the least-watched version of the awards in TV history.