Awards Show Ratings Are Up. But Are They Really?

Award show ratings
Yinchen Niu/VIP+

Like much of TV during the pandemic, awards shows took a ratings hit.

A combination of the lack of audiences, remote participation and, for some, a sense of frivolity during a time of crisis, saw every major awards show see viewership plummet.

With the worst of the pandemic over, audiences have begun to return, beginning with the 2021 Emmys in September. And the stanching of viewer losses has seen network PR crow that the good times are back and ratings are on the rise, with the Tony Awards the most recent to see an upswing.

That may be true, but as VIP+’s analysis of the major awards taking place since September 2021 shows, viewership levels have not rebounded to their pre-pandemic heights but have instead followed the long-term trajectory of decline. Our analysis looks at total audience and 18-49 demo ratings for the major TV, movie and music awards airing on U.S. television.

16.6 million total viewers in 2022; -52% vs. 2016

The Academy’s infamous 2022 awards shows saw a total audience increase of 6.2 million total viewers (+60%) versus 2021’s airing, with this even stronger among the 18-49 demo, which increased by 77%. The story is not quite as positive when assessing the longer-term trend. Compared with 2016, total audience fell by 17.8 million (-52%). The 18-49 ratings shrank by 64% from when the show pulled in a 10.5 demo rating.

9.6 million total viewers in 2022; -62% vs. 2016

As will be seen later in this analysis, music awards shows overall have been less able to recapture more of the audience that stopped watching during the pandemic, and the Grammys are no exception. The Grammy Awards had the feeblest bounceback of the major awards shows, with total audience increasing by 360K viewers (+4%) from 2021’s tremendous fall. That at least was an increase, unlike among 18-49s, which fell by 2%. Zoom out to a bird's-eye view, and the ceremony has lost 15.3 million viewers since 2016, a decline of 62%. This precipitous drop is even steeper among 18-49s, which fell by 71% in demo ratings.

7.8 million total viewers in 2021; -31% vs. 2016

The Emmys were the first awards show to post the good news that audiences were back on the rise and, in the case of that telecast, even greater than the final pre-pandemic year. 2021’s ceremony saw a total audience increase of 1.5 million on the prior year (+23%), with 18-49 demo ratings up by 39%. Of course, the long-term tale of decline still rings true, with total viewership down by 3.6 million vs. 2016 (-31%) and down by 35% for 18-49s.

5.2 million total viewers in 2022; -53% vs. 2016*

CBS lost the 2022-and-beyond rights for the Academy of Country Music Awards to Prime Video. Not wanting to have a country music awards gap on its schedule, sister network CMT’s CMT Music Awards were switched to be a CBS-exclusive event this year.

Moving from cable to broadcast isn’t the fairest of comparisons (total viewership jumped from the 2021 cable simulcast’s 828K to 5.2 million on CBS), so for this analysis, VIP+ has opted to compare this year’s CMT Music Awards against the editions of the Academy of Country Music Awards that aired on CBS.

The first year of the CMT Awards on CBS saw a total viewership decline of 1 million (-17%) versus the final year of the Academy of Country Music Awards, with this falling by 18% among the 18-49 demo rating. Compared with 2016, total audience is down by 53% (-6 million), with 18-49 demo ratings falling by a huge 71%.

4.2 million total viewers in 2022, -52% vs. 2016

The Tonys were up considerably versus 2021’s “The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!” with total viewers climbing by 1.5 million (+53%) and the 18-49 demo rating up by 54%. Broadway’s awards show is not immune to overall trends, however, with total audience down by 4.5 million versus 2016 (-52%) and losses even greater when looking at the 18-49 demo rating (-64%).

2.6 million total viewers in 2022, -74% vs. 2016

Much as other music award shows experienced, the Billboard Awards did not see a post-pandemic resurgence. 2022’s total audience was -8% below 2021’s 2.8 million, for a decline of 210K, with the 18-49 rating down by -7%. The show has lost 7.2 million viewers since 2016 (-74%), with 18-49s declining at the greater rate of -79%.

1.2 million total viewers in 2022, -67% vs. 2016

One of MTV’s two summer showcase events, the Movie & TV Awards did not recover from the pandemic lull, with audiences continuing to trend downward. 2022’s total audience was -9% smaller than 2021 (-123K), with the 18-49 demo down by -19%. Compared with 2016, total audience is down by 2.4 million viewers (-67%) and the 18-49 demo is down by -78%.

Perhaps a strategy of putting awards shows on a medium the target demo rarely watches should be amended. The CMT Music Awards had a similar 2016 total audience (3.3 million multicast), which shrank to 1.4 million in 2021. It found success in being moved away from cable.

MTV’s awards may well reach a greater audience if they were simulcast across not just CBS and cable but on a property such as TikTok or YouTube. The same goes for all awards shows if the goal is to reach the most viewers and sell the most ads.

Partnerships between unrelated media companies are already occurring in regions including the U.K., where Comcast-owned Sky recently shared rights for an international soccer game with broadcast network ITV for a confusingly labeled “Sky Sports on ITV” game. There’s no reason why American media firms should not be just as forward thinking