It’s no surprise that live events and award shows struggled with viewership and were negatively impacted from the 2020 pandemic. Empty seats filled arena seats instead of live audiences. Popular award shows such as the Academy Awards and Grammys took a big hit this past year, proving live feedback from present audiences heavily influences live performances and even ratings from home. Acceptance speeches were limited because performers were also watching and engaging from home. The lack of some of the most sought-after A-lister red carpet outfits and interviews were missed, and I’m sure the Hollywood elite missed their after-show parties.
So, what is the current state of these shows? Some live events are opening their doors to vaccinated people only. Some are simply allowing seats to be filled, but space them out to adhere to the 6 ft recommended social distancing rule.
The 2021 Grammys showed enormous year over year decline, but despite that downward spiral scored the top ratings so far in 2021 for a live award show for home viewership. CBS’ broadcast of the awards drew 9.23 million viewers and a 2.28 rating among adults 18-49 in Nielsen’s final same-day ratings for Sunday (vs. 8.8 million and 2.1 in earlier ratings, which didn’t include out-of-home viewing). Both figures are all-time lows for the Grammys and down sharply from last year. Sunday’s show fell 51 percent in total viewers (from 18.69 million) and 58 percent in the 18-49 demographic (from 5.4). CBS notes, however, that the Grammys have scored the biggest awards show audience of the 2020-21 season thus far.
And the networks may not have gotten a price break either.
TV networks pay tens of millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast individual awards shows, because they are part of an exclusive club: programming that needs to be seen live. In any given year, the Oscars and Grammys are among the only shows that can compete with live sports for viewers.
With the increased viewership across Netflix and other streaming platforms and looking at how many awards these platforms have won recently, it would make sense to give viewers the same options to watch live shows across platforms such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and what not. Even if it costs them a couple bucks, my guess is they would dive in credit card in hand.
So, let’s zoom out. Consider how much has changed in the past ten years: The growth of on-demand content libraries, the habituation of ad-free viewing, the omnipresence of celebs on social media, the ability to catch the best parts of live events later, the stickiness of always-on social feeds. One of the logical results: starry live events are not must-see-TV anymore. As one wise TV exec said to me, “Awards shows rely on a common definition of pop culture and that idea has been eroding for years.
Broadway, one of my favorite theater past-times, was also impacted by a shutdown, therefore the Screen Actors Guild Awards have been delayed for three months this year. The Oscars aired in April instead of February as well as the Cannes Film Festival taking a July seat instead of the usual May slot.
The positive side to all of this is that these shows are still hanging in there and just need more time to properly assess candidates that are in line for awards in 2021. Broadway has re-opened its doors, and Hollywood studios are back in full swing. So, I’m pretty sure… the show WILL go on!