LOS ANGELES – For the first time, TV networks are going online in their annual campaign to get shows nominated for Emmy Awards.
The move comes less than a year after the major networks began to offer programs to viewers over the Web and stands as another sign of the Internet's growing importance to the TV industry.
NBC and CBS (CBS-A) are experimenting by offering online episodes of shows to the TV industry insiders who nominate and then vote for the Emmys. They're also taking the traditional route of sending episodes on DVDs.
"These DVDs pile up in Emmy voters' households," said CBS spokesman Chris Ender. "This way, you don't have to open any boxes. It's just point, click, watch."
Last October, ABC became the first network to sell downloads of shows on Apple Computer Inc.'s (AAPL) iTunes music and video store. Other networks also rushed to accommodate viewers who want shows to be available for viewing on iPods, cell phones and other portable devices.
NBC Universal has launched the highest-profile online campaign so far to grab the attention of Academy of Television Arts and Sciences members who help select the nominees and then vote for Emmy winners.
The network recently bought the front cover of the trade paper Variety to promote the comedy "The Office."
Glued to the cover was a gift card with a 12-letter code on the back that allowed viewers to download an episode from the iTunes store for free. While the ad was aimed at Emmy voters, the card could be used by anyone who bought a copy of the paper.
"We thought it made great sense for 'The Office,'" said NBC Universal spokesman Curt King, explaining the show's ratings improved after NBC started selling it online.
The producers of the NBC show "The Apprentice" took out their own trade paper ad this week, promoting a Web site where voters could view one episode from the program's fourth season.
"I guarantee you the one group that will never be fired will be the academy," host Donald Trump says before the episode streams online.
CBS opted to use the Web exclusively to supply voters with episodes of its "Crime Scene Investigation" series rather than send out DVDs.
Ads in the trade papers include Web sites where voters will find streaming episodes of "CSI," "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: NY."
The online campaign gave CBS the chance to "zig when everyone else is zagging," Ender said.
NBC also used the Web exclusively to distribute an episode of its reality show "The Biggest Loser."
To win nominations, networks give Emmy voters what they consider the season's best episodes and performances. Nominations will be announced July 6, with the awards presented during a live ceremony on Aug. 27.
Members of the television academy who nominate and vote for the Emmys are actors, directors, producers and others who work in the TV industry.
Online viewing of all entries — and perhaps even voting for Emmy contenders — might someday replace the current system of sending out DVDs in fancy packages, but it is likely years away. This is only the first year that networks are not sending clunky VHS tapes to Emmy voters.
ABC, for instance, sent DVDs of its movie "The Ten Commandments" nestled behind two "stone" tablets. The mailing for the Fox medical show "House" contained a vial of fake blood.
John Leverence, senior vice president of the television academy, said voters need the higher picture and sound quality of DVDs to evaluate shows.
But that could change as the Internet becomes better at handling large video files and shows can be easily watched on large TV monitors instead of computer screens
"I love the idea of being able to post a URL on an e-mail to our members and say, 'Go here and watch all the shows you need and cast your vote," Leverence said.