Emmys Dr HorribleLast night’s Emmys were a decently classy affair, a night of evening gowns and white dinner jackets to toast the year in television. The producers of the show clearly tried their best to make something special out of what has been a dismal year for the television business. But I couldn’t help but feel what seemed to be worn on the faces of the TV stars throughout the Nokia Theater—that there’s a disquieting evolution underway. And everyone in the room knew it.

“Amy and I are honored to be presenting on the last official year of network broadcast television,” said Julia Louis-Dreyfus jokingly last night at the Emmys while presenting an award with Amy Poehler.

(It’s worth noting and disclosing a slight bias here, I’m also one of the co-founders of the Streamy Awards and Tubefilter is one of the co-hosts of the Awards.)

Taking a cue from the Tonys, the Emmys picking Neil Patrick Harris as host was smart choice; the perfect blend of lifelong TV star, musically gifted Broadway lead, and more recently, Whedon-approved internet star as Dr. Horrible himself.

As James Poniewozik at TIME noted, it was the first Emmy Awards of the post-mass-media era.” The best scripted bits of the night were indeed internet originated—NPH, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day in a Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog takeover number, Jimmy Fallon’s Auto-Tuned voice (and subsequent back spasms) and Family Guy’s YouTube bit.

Sure, the digs at the sometimes spotty buffering of web video in the Dr. Horrible sketch were playful, if not perhaps a bit catty. In truth, it was worth a chuckle, a cheeky admission that web television is still in its growing stages, complete with a few voice cracks and awkward faces.

But the message is clear. The internet cannot be ignored anymore. The sixty year-old Emmys showed its age last night. Sure, they made the hip references, even having John Hodgman on irreverent color commentary duty. But really they just played lip service to online content, which they famously like to brag can also compete for an Emmy alongside 30 Rock and Mad Men. Whatever they think is happening online—low budget experimentation, talent development, cutting edge alt-comedy—it matters now.

Neil Patrick Harris - Streamy Awards 2009

In the online world, niche rules. It’s not the mass-market sites like MSN or AOL that rule the cultural roost, but the thousands of curated corners of the web built around the beauty of niche. Throwing a few of the latest internet memes, like auto-tuning, into the Emmys show probably left plenty of mainstreamers scratching their heads, but that’s okay now. Not every joke has to be mainstream to work.

Memes can pop up out of anywhere now—4Chan, 15 year-old YouTubers, photo blogs, quirky web series. Heck, there’s even a web series dedicated to sorting out these latest memes (Know Your Meme).

The Streamys were created to celebrate this birth of creative episodic work online that was otherwise getting overlooked, often uncovering a breakout on its way up. What’s percolating online is sometimes raw, sometimes rougher, but sometimes brilliant. Together, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and The Guild ran off with a number of Streamys this past spring, and both are just now becoming recognized names beyond the sometimes insular web world.

It’s not clear where the business models will shake out as the mainstream television business cozies up to the ruckus being made online. But it is clear that the internet matters for the entertainment business. And we’re not just talking about marketing opportunities anymore, but actual bonafide entertainment.

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