Emmys Audience Jump Doesn’t Spell End of Era of Awards Shows Decline

Emmys Audience Jump Doesn’t Spell End
Cheyne Gateley/Variety Intelligence Platform

By now, it’s almost expected that the TV ratings for an awards show will show considerable decline versus the prior year. But the 73rd Emmy Awards turned that notion on its head Sunday with an increase of a million viewers watching from 2020, for a total of 7.4 million.

This represents a +16.4% gain on the 2020 audience, the lowest to ever watch the Emmys. However, such is the depth of the overall audience decline that, compared to the audience five years ago, viewership is still down by -35%.

The majority of the steep audience declines occurred in tandem with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the new formats awards bodies rushed to develop to avoid cancelling ceremonies altogether not resonating with an audience in crisis.

The Emmys however were the canary in the coal mine for audience declines, as they experienced a large fall in viewers in 2019 before the pandemic. Unbeknownst at the time, this heralded a new era in televised awards show viewership, and the end of the golden age of awards audiences, with the increased 2021 Emmys audience suggesting that there’s a rump of 7-10 million awards show loyalists.

This sea change has hit all awards shows, regardless of size. Of the awards shows taking place in 2021, only the BET Awards and now the Emmys have seen an audience increase versus the prior ceremony.

The Emmys have done better than most in terms of total decline. It underlines how tremendous recent audience tumbles have been that an overall decline of –35% from 2016 is considered to be mild, but percentage-wise, this is less than half the decline that the Oscars and Billboard Music Awards have seen.

This points to a shift in viewer tastes. After the Oscars saw a huge audience fall of 13.7 million viewers in April versus the prior year, VIP partnered with consumer insights firm Maru Group to understand consumer sentiment around the ceremony.

The results can be broadly interpreted to apply to all awards shows, particularly lack of interest due to not caring about who is nominated, and the greater propensity of viewers of all ages preferring to watch highlights over a full ceremony.

Prior VIP+ research has highlighted the preference younger consumers have for YouTube and how they are much less interested in watching via traditional means. This points to a future where the audience can be expected to continue to dwindle.

The rate of award show viewership far outstrips the already troubling decline in pay TV subscriptions. Thus the recent audience evaporations cannot be blamed on this, unless by random chance those cancelling their subscriptions tended to be traditionally ardent awards show viewers. Instead, changing tastes of viewers need to be accounted for.

Younger viewers are geared around quick video hits, thanks to social media. Asking them to sit through a two or three hour ceremony just to see a couple of stars they follow is no longer an option for many. Awards shows need a format and delivery overhaul; delay too long and they risk sliding further from the zeitgeist.