Foxtel's True Detective.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in HBO's True Detective.

It reads like an episode of Game of Thrones: the elderly monarch seeking to put down an ambitious young claimant to the mantle of sovereign.

But that is perhaps what the premium cable channel HBO is doing, in announcing that its critically exalted crime drama True Detective will be submitted in the best drama category at this year's Emmys.

That decision puts True Detective up against its only real competition, Netflix's House of Cards.

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood & Robin Wright as Claire Underwood

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in Netflix's House of Cards.

But much more is at stake here than merely one show winning over the other. For almost two decades HBO's brand has been synonymous with the best scripted dramas on television.

And Netflix, a younger and cheaper enterprise, has delivered in itself and its flagship program House of Cards the first legitimate threat to that dominance.

What is more, the US entertainment industry trades are frequently filled with stories about Netflix's ascension at HBO's expense, in dollar, subscriber and quality drama terms.

Because of True Detective's short episode order - eight - and the fact that it will have a different story each season, HBO has the luxury of submitting either as a drama or a miniseries.

So make no mistake: submitting it as a contender for best drama is a strategic move.

A similar dilemma arose for 20th Century Fox in the past, with American Horror Story. They elected to call it a miniseries because competition in the drama category was too hot.

That issue has amplified now that the ambitious young Netflix has come along, with a business plan which more or less reads: bump old HBO off its throne and become the leading source of quality drama.

Netflix's House of Cards earned nine Emmy nominations last year, including best drama, and best actor and actress respectively for Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.

It only won three, for directing, casting and single-camera cinematography. It was a bruising loss for a company which had, until that point, been riding high on House of Cards' critical success.

Netflix lost best drama to AMC's Breaking Bad, best actor to HBO's The Newsroom (for Jeff Daniels) and best actress to Showtime's Homeland (for Claire Danes).

This year, Netflix is expected to mount an aggressive campaign to install House of Cards as heir apparent to the outgoing hit drama Breaking Bad.

Which brings us to HBO, and the decision - some would say controversial decision - to enter True Detective into the best drama category, where it will face off against TV's best.

Some, such as Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland and Mad Men, are confident nominees but unlikely winners.

Breaking Bad is a certain starter this year, and a likely winner. Which really means the only threat to Breaking Bad would be House of Cards, off the back of strong reviews and enormous audience affection, and HBO's True Detective.

The latter stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as two detectives investigating a serial killer case. Since its premiere it has become one of the most critically lauded shows on television.

Competition in the drama category in the last decade has been so fierce many one-hour dramas have leaned on their comedic elements to beat a hasty retreat and submit themselves in the comedy category, up against sitcoms.

Desperate Housewives is the best example of that strategy: unlikely to even get nominated against such overpowering competition in the drama category, it was forced to stand its ground against Will & Grace and Everybody Loves Raymond.

This year, Netflix has submitted its own one-hour drama/comedy Orange is the New Black in the comedy category, prompting speculation that it is gunning for a double win: House of Cards in drama; and Orange is the New Black in comedy.

That category already has fierce competition of its own: last year's winner, Modern Family, plus solid shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Louie plus two HBO shows Veep and Girls.

The 66th annual primetime Emmy Awards will be held on August 25, 2014 at LA's Nokia Theatre.