Despite Dearth of Awards, Broadcasters Benefit From Televising Emmys

Lorne Michaels - Outstanding Variety Sketch
Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutters

The Emmys are not showing much love to the Big 4 broadcast networks these days — but don’t expect the awards show to move to a streaming service any time soon.

Once again, this year’s awards were dominated by cable, premium cable, and streaming platforms. HBO took home the most Emmys with 34 total, while Netflix was close behind with 27. Amazon nabbed 15 total wins, picking up seven of those on Sunday night thanks to a near-comedy category sweep courtesy of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Fleabag.”

On the flip side of that, the Big 4 took home their smallest Emmy haul ever this year. ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC brought in a combined 16 Emmys. That is down from the previous low of 19 the four networks won in 2016. Most of those wins also came during the Creative Arts Emmys. Only NBC picked up any awards during the Primetime Emmys, with “Saturday Night Live” winning for both best variety sketch series and best directing for a variety sketch series.

What’s more, this Sunday’s Emmys telecast is officially the lowest-rated and least watched in history. The show took in just 6.9 million viewers with a 1.6 rating in adults 18-49. That represents a 33% drop off in viewership compared to last year’s Emmys, which were also the least-watched at that time.

Thanks to a new deal signed with the Big 4 last year, the Emmy Awards will remain on broadcast at least through 2026, with the networks trading off on which airs the show each year. As Variety reported at that time, the license fee for the Emmys is believed to be around $10 million a year, with the network airing the show mostly covering the costs of the awards ceremony.

According to awards agency and consulting firm boss Rich Licata of Licata & Co., it is still worth it for the broadcasters to continue airing the show despite a shrinking audience.

“I think the broadcast networks have to continue to stay in the game,” Licata told Variety. “I think it’s a moneymaking proposition for them. They are still commercial television and they get paid to run commercials. I worry a bit about broadcasting in this milieu and [this year] was a very chilling reminder just how fast their audience is fading…So as long as they can host the show where they can promote their new programming – it comes at a very timely month of the year – and collect big checks from advertisers, I definitely think it’s worth it for them.”

Yet those advertisers can often be a rival network. During Sunday’s telecast, the first commercial to air was for the upcoming streaming service Disney Plus, which launches in November. Similarly, Netflix debuted multiple trailer for upcoming projects during the Emmys, including one for the highly-anticipated “Breaking Bad” follow up movie “El Camino” and Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician.” Emmys host network Fox also took the opportunity to use both the telecast and the red carpet pre-show to remind viewers about the new season of “The Masked Singer” and other fall programming. But given the show’s rapidly dwindling linear audience, how effective any of these ads are remains to be seen.