With the Grammy Awards set for this Sunday, hopes are high at the Recording Academy that February’s Golden Globes ceremony wasn’t a bad omen.
Ratings for the Globes telecast plummeted 62% versus 2020 last month, escalating what has become a perennial concern for awards shows of all kinds across TV in the U.S. throughout the year. As VIP data demonstrates, audience levels from one of TVs biggest nights — the Academy Awards — to more obscure franchises, like the People’s Choice Awards, have been slipping steadily for quite some time. And the Globes may be the most alarming sign yet that the trend could continue to accelerate in the pandemic era.
Linear TV overall has seen viewing declines mount as the dual forces of cord-cutting and streaming increase, and awards shows don’t seem to be immune. That’s cause for concern to rights holders and TV networks that used to rely on these shows to generate big audiences and strong advertiser interest.
VIP analyzed the total audiences for 19 awards shows from 2016 to date and found there has not been a year in that time when awards shows on average increased their audience. 2017 saw a decline of -1.5%, jumping to -17.7% in 2018 and a modest decline from that of -1% in 2019.
2020 was already shaping up to be a year with steep awards show viewership declines. The average audience dip for the five that took place last year before COVID — SAGs, Critics’ Choice, Golden Globes, Grammy Awards and the Oscars — was -11.7%. Then came the pandemic.
It has gotten much worse. The average rate of decline for the 12 awards shows during the pandemic was -37.6% versus the prior year’s ceremony, an increase of 221% on the pre-pandemic decline rate.
This average rate of decline was calculated by comparing the awards shows taking place during the pandemic against the most recent pre-pandemic ceremonies. The individual audience changes for each show taking place during the pandemic are shown below.
This average masks some truly shocking declines, led by the 2021 Golden Globes, which saw a jaw-dropping fall of -62.3% versus 2020’s audience — a loss of 11.4 million viewers. Only the Critics’ Choice TV Awards topped this, with a decline of -69.4% (-828,000 viewers) for the ceremony that took place March 7 on the CW.
This brings us to the 2021 Grammys, taking place on March 14. Recent viewership has fallen more gently since the big decline seen in 2018 (-24%, or 6.3 million viewers, versus 2017). The 2020 awards saw a -6% audience fall versus 2019, down by 1.2 million viewers to 18.7 million.
Current trends suggest this will not be the case in 2021, with the big audience question being, How much does it drop? Applying the overall rate of decline awards shows have seen during the pandemic suggests an audience decline of 7 million, down to 11.7M.
A worst-case scenario would be for an audience decline to mirror the implosion had by the Globes, which would see viewership plunge by 11.7 million viewers to a total of 7 million. It’s likely the actual audience will be somewhere in between this range, but it looks to be a steep anticipated fall.
The decline has also impacted the awards shows airing on Telemundo and Univision. Prior to the pandemic, Hispanic awards were on a positive trajectory, with audiences up by 12.9% in 2019. The pandemic put an end to that, with the two ceremonies taking place in 2020 down an average of -35.6%.
It’s not just awards shows that have been hit by audience declines. As detailed in VIP’s “Sports’ New TV Formula” special report, the majority of championships for major sports in the U.S. saw big audience declines during the pandemic, with the NHL feeling the worst of it, with a Globes-esque decline of -61.9% versus the prior season.
This points to a change in overall viewing behavior. When the pandemic hit, live sports and new episodes of scripted shows quickly came off the air, with streaming seeing tremendous increases in year-over-year growth.
While the rate declined as the country began to open for the first time in the summer, streaming remained considerably above pre-pandemic levels. Consumers grew accustomed to the perks streaming offers the viewing experience, and some have not returned to live TV. On the face of things, some never will, with the shrinking awards show audiences looking to be the new normal.