The Los Angeles–based Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) established the Emmy Award as part of an image-building and public relations opportunity. The first Emmy Awards ceremony took place on January 25, 1949, at the Hollywood Athletic Club, but solely to honor shows produced and aired locally in the Los Angeles area. Shirley Dinsdale has the distinction of receiving the very first Emmy Award for Most Outstanding Television Personality, during that first awards ceremony. The term "Emmy" is a French alteration of the television crew slang term "Immy", the nickname for an "image orthicon", a camera tube used in TV production.
In the 1950s, the ATAS expanded the Emmys into a national event, presenting the awards to shows aired nationwide on broadcast television. In 1955, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) was formed in New York City as a sister organization to serve members on the East Coast, and help to also supervise the Emmys. The NATAS also established regional chapters throughout the United States, with each one developing their own local Emmy awards show for local programming. The ATAS still however maintained its separate regional ceremony honoring local programming in the Los Angeles Area.
Originally there was only one Emmy Awards ceremony held per year to honor shows nationally broadcast in the United States. In 1974, the first Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony was held to specifically honor achievement in national daytime programming. Other area-specific Emmy Awards ceremonies soon followed. Also, the International Emmy Awards, honoring television programs produced and initially aired outside the U.S., was established in the early 1970s. Meanwhile, all Emmys awarded prior to the emergence of these separate, area-specific ceremonies are listed along with the Primetime Emmy Awards in the ATAS's official records.
In 1977, due to various conflicts, the ATAS and the NATAS agreed to split ties. However, they also agreed to share ownership of the Emmy statue and trademark, with each responsible for administering a specific set of award ceremonies. There was an exception regarding the Engineering Awards (those honoring individuals, companies, or to scientific or technical organizations in recognition of significant developments and contributions to the engineering and technological aspects of television): the NATAS continues to administer the Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards, while the ATAS holds the separate Primetime Engineering Emmy Awards.
With the rise of cable television in the 1980s, cable programs first became eligible for the Primetime Emmys in 1988 and the Daytime Emmys in 1989. In 2011, the ABC Television Network cancelled the soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live and sold the two shows' licensing rights to the production company Prospect Park so they could be continued on web television; this prompted NATAS to create a new Daytime Emmys category for the 2013 ceremony to honor such web-only series. The ATAS also began accepting original online-only web television programs in 2013.