The Victoria’s Secret fashion show suffered its worst ratings on record

Sex doesn’t sell like it used to.
Sex doesn’t sell like it used to.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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The annual Victoria’s Secret runway extravaganza was broadcast on Sunday (Dec. 2) on ABC after years on CBS. The change in networks was meant to boost viewership, but it appears to have largely failed. The skin-bearing, cleavage-filled fashion show, which began in 1995, suffered its worst ratings yet, surpassing last year’s record low.

According to data from Nielsen, the show averaged a 0.9 rating among adults 18-49 and attracted 3.3 million viewers, the latest viewership low in a five-year swan-dive:

It’s possible that the broader trend of people ditching television in favor of streaming services contributed to the slump. Then again, an NCIS Los Angeles rerun in the same time slot got 1.5 million more views than the Victoria’s Secret event.

The dramatic drop in viewership happens to correlate with the company’s rapidly declining brand image and loosening hold on bra market, along with its travails in the stock market:

The price of basic underwear at the chain recently hit a record low (something analysts have described as a “scary” development) and the company is closing 20 stores due to poor sales. Parent company L Brands also will shut down its luxury retailer Henri Bendel, and all 23 of its stores, in 2019.

A recent Vogue interview with the architects of the fashion show itself served to spotlight how out-of-touch VS really is. Comments around the show’s lack of diversity by Edward Razek, chief marketing officer of L Brands, were especially criticized, and his remarks about casting transgender models—whom he referred to as “transsexuals,” a phrase regarded as a slur—were especially shocking and off-color. The interview surfaced a week before the show itself, which featured a pre-recorded video in which its models informed audience members how empowered they felt by being a Victoria’s Secret “Angel.” The critics didn’t buy it, though.

“Show me the viewer who sees Gigi Hadid strutting down a runway in floral boot leggings and floral push-up bra toting a giant floral—what? parachute? because why?—and thinks: ‘Empowerment!’” Vanessa Friedman wrote for the New York Times. “Show me the viewer who sees Shanina Shaik in shell pink lace bra and panties with a silver brocade corset and silver ankle cuffs with her neck tied up in a big bow and thinks: ‘Damn, that woman is dressing to please herself.’”

What’s ahead for Victoria’s Secret? New leadership for one thing, after CEO Jan Singer gave up the role last month after only two years on the job. There’s also a plan to reboot swimwear, which the retailer had cut along with apparel in 2016. And what of the fashion show? It’s not clear whether the Victoria’s Secret Angels will walk the catwalk again, but it’s increasingly clear that television viewers won’t miss them too much if they don’t.