Rachel Rosmarin, 06.09.06, 6:00 PM ET
Win a Grammy and you might see CD sales increase. An Oscar might boost DVD sales. But winning a Webby can shut down your company.
After the Montreal-based Web-design company Dream Studio Design won a Webby award for "Best Use of Animation or Motion Graphics" last month, curious Web surfers flooded the company's site, crashing five of its servers. A Webby can provide a more benign boost, as well: Paint company Sherwin-Williams (nyse: SHW - news - people ) says it has seen a (manageable) traffic spike to its "color visualizer" feature since winning their award in May.
The fact that the ten-year-old Webby, which will honor this year's winners on Monday in New York City, has any clout at all is a testament to the renewed vitality of the industry it honors. Throughout the past decade, the size and tone of the Webby awards has closely mirrored that of the dot-com sector. In 1997, the first year a Webby awards show was held, 700 people showed up at Bimbo's night club in San Francisco to celebrate sites like bezerk.com and suck.com--both now defunct--and IMDB.com and Salon, both which survive as popular destinations today.
By 2000, the peak of the dot-com bubble, the Webby awards show at San Francisco's Nob Hill Masonic Center drew 3,000 netizens, who watched as representatives from relatively nascent search portal Google.com retrieved awards for technical achievement by roller-skating victoriously across the stage. Awards were presented by celebs like Alan Cummings and Sandra Bernhardt.
As the bubble began to burst, Webbys founder Tiffany Shlain says the award show's organizers were in denial. "We had our biggest show ever in 2001, because we wanted to make a statement that we didn't believe this industry was really going away." A preshow hosted by Emporio Armani and an awards ceremony featuring drag queens and a gospel choir ensured the mood was as upbeat as 1999.
But by 2003, there was no money left for a lavish awards ceremony. Awards were still chosen but were announced online that year, as they were in 2004.
In 2005, as the tech industry recovered, the Webby Awards were sold to IDG, a technology media and events company, and the show was back on--this time in New York.
The Webby awards now employ a new strategy of scale, inviting only 500 attendees to an exclusive dinner show and securing The Daily Show with Jon Stewart comedian Rob Corddry as emcee. To keep the evening short, winners in 65 categories are allowed to make acceptance speeches no longer than five words.
Today, digital content is thoroughly mainstream--so much so that the long-standing television-awards show, the Emmys, has begun to recognize programming designed for consumption via computer, iPod and cell phone. The first new-media Emmy was granted in April at the Daytime Emmy Awards to Time Warner's (nyse: TWX - news - people ) AOL for its Internet broadcast coverage of "Live 8," an international concert and poverty fundraiser.
While the Emmy may not have changed AOL's fortunes as a digital-content provider--after all, its brand is already one of the most well known of the Internet-era--a nomination in this new category could mean everything to a startup.
The "new media" Emmy is so new that it is too soon to tell whether the tech industry or consumers will give the category clout comparable to an "Outstanding Comedy Series" Emmy nod.
But Chris Tyler, chief executive of Riddle Productions, says his company's nomination in that category for interactive Web-based episodes of Stranger Adventures' Helen Beaumont has resulted in enormous recognition, including phone calls from movie studios, networks and cable channels interested in giving his firm work. Some even offered to buy him out.
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