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Can the Grammys replicate the Oscars’ recovery from falling viewership?

Jazz artist Esperanza Spalding holding up a Grammy award in 2020.
REUTERS/Monica Almeida
Jazz artist Esperanza Spalding at the 2020 Grammys in LA.
  • Adario Strange
By Adario Strange

Media & entertainment reporter based in New York

Published

Aided in part by unexpected ratings booster Will Smith, the Oscars improved its viewership by 60% compared to last year’s broadcast, a feat the Grammys aims to pull off on April 3. Last year, the event dipped to a historic low of 8.8 million viewers, a 53% decline from the previous year, which attracted 18.7 million viewers. 

Unlike live concerts and movie theaters, which attributed a major portion of their revenue decline to pandemic lockdowns, live television award shows have been losing the public’s interest for years. 

In 2013, the Academy Awards drew 43.7 million viewers for its broadcast, which usually lasts roughly three hours. By 2018, that figure had plunged by over 40% to 25.5 million viewers. Likewise, in 2012, the Grammys pulled in 39 million viewers, but by 2019 only about 20 million viewers tuned in, a nearly 50% drop. 

The pandemic accelerated a downward trend for live award show broadcasts  

Pandemic lockdowns didn’t officially begin until March of 2020, weeks after award season. As a result, viewership numbers remained relatively steady that year. But in 2021, as the entertainment industry was forced to follow quarantine rules, the impact was also felt at awards shows, which are driven by massive production teams and enhanced by in-person celebrity audience members.

Along with the steep drop in viewer numbers for the Grammys in 2021, the Oscars fell to 10.4 million viewers. Mirroring the bigger award shows, the Golden Globes shrank to 6.9 million viewers from 18 million the previous year. 

By comparison, live sporting events seem mostly impervious to the dwindling interest in live televised award shows. In 2019 the Super Bowl drew 112 million viewers, and in 2020 it had 102 million viewers. Then, after a drop to 96 million in 2021, the event moved back to its normal reach of 100 million in 2022. 

The challenges shows like the Grammys face in the future are multi-faceted

Even with a return to somewhat normal live event attendance, the Oscars didn’t manage to recover its pre-pandemic viewership numbers. Part of the issue is the divided attention of consumer eyeballs. 

In addition to the challenge that subscription streaming services like Netflix present to live television, social media, and its role in dictating popular trends and artists, has chipped away at the cultural impact of award shows. Also, user-created content distributed on platforms like YouTube and Twitch are proving to be formidable alternatives to traditional network television.

A recent survey of US consumers conducted by Deloitte revealed that roughly 46% of viewers say they watch more user-generated content online now than they did six months ago. Lately, instead of tuning in to TV, many viewers are going to TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram for peeks at red carpet looks and trending moments like “the slap,” which increased broadcast viewer numbers by just 550,000, compared to hundreds of millions of views on social media.

This year’s Grammys will be streamed on Paramount+ and on CBS online streams, but the fact that events like this remain largely rooted in the conventions of network TV may be keeping them from catching up with an audience that is moving in a different direction. 

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