News

5 Reasons Why TV Viewers Don't Give a Crap About Awards Shows Anymore

Between the internet and the 400-plus scripted shows on TV and streaming each year, there's plenty of reasons why viewers aren't tuning in to the televised ceremonies anymore.

by | December 12, 2017 | Comments

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

In today’s era of television, 11 million viewers would make a show a certified hit. But when you’re the Emmys? That number is worrying. September’s soiree, hosted by Stephen Colbert and full of jokes about President Trump and speeches that were by turns pretentious (Nicole Kidman) and memorable (Sterling K. Brown), didn’t improve on the previous ceremony’s ratings, which were pretty low to begin with. Even the rare presence of a popular network show — This Is Us — in the Outstanding Drama category didn’t do anything to goose the numbers.

The Emmys aren’t the only awards show suffering: the 2017 Oscars garnered a paltry (for the Oscars) 32.9 million viewers, and a 9.1 rating in the coveted 18-49 demo, a 14 percent drop from 2016.

The marquee nights for both the television and film academies are suffering more than some of the other big-time awards shows: The Golden Globes were up in viewership in January of 2017 and the Grammys have been on the rise for three years running, garnering 26 million viewers in 2017.

Still, compared to the 2012 Grammys’ 39 million viewers, that’s peanuts. Why are people tuning out these once-reliable audience draws?


1. The Nominees Are Obscure

Aziz Ansari, Eric Wareheim (Netflix)
(Photo by Netflix)

There was a time when you could tune into the Oscars to see the biggest moneymakers of that year competing against each other, then later in the year watch as TV’s biggest stars would square off for Emmys. E.T. vs. Tootsie. Cheers vs. The Golden Girls. L.A. Law vs. Murder, She Wrote. These were shows tens of millions of people watched.

Now? More often than not, Oscar nominees are limited-release “awards bait” art films that get shown in a few theaters in December before going wider. And, as a survey by the Katz Media Group found, most of the shows nominated for Emmys this year are recognized by fewer than 50 percent of the respondents; some streaming shows, like Master of None, are barely even heard of — much less watched. Only 20 percent of those polled heard of this year’s drama winner, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Back before the rise of cable in the 1980s, “television was the mass medium,” Robert Thompson, professor of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, told Rotten Tomatoes. “Everybody had at least heard of all the nominees. People were watching the same stuff at the same time. That’s not the case anymore. People won’t care as much if they’ve never seen the nominees.”

Tom O’Neil, editor of awards-tracking site Gold Derby, said, “Award show ratings are the highest when viewers have nominees their rooting for. When Brie Larson wins Best Actress at the Oscars, everyone says, ‘who?'”

Ironically, the Emmys are more relevant even if people aren’t watching, Thompson said.

“There are people who, if they’re sitting down and watching the Emmys, are hearing about The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time.” Despite that, he theorizes, “The commitment and interest of people who do watch the Emmys have gone up, but the nominated shows have such comparatively small audiences compared to network shows, the [total] audience is going down.”


2. There’s Just Too Much Other Stuff On

(Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

The current glut of television doesn’t just mean the 400-plus scripted shows viewers could choose from this past year (which, according to the most recent estimate from FX Networks CEO John Landgraf, could top 500 titles in 2017). The night the ceremony airs, there’s just so many other entertainment choices that are likely preferable to seeing who won for best makeup and costumes. There are streaming series, social media, movies, and even other live events to choose from.

“Those choices are increasing on a year-to-year basis, there are only so many people and only so many hours that they’re watching television,” Thompson said. “Awards shows are no different than anything else, except the Super Bowl.” He joked, “Between the time the Emmys start and when they finish, Netflix will have released three new series.”

And, more than ever, other networks don’t care about programming original shows or live events against the Oscars or Emmys.

“Networks can no longer afford to write off an evening,” Thompson said.


3. The Internet Satisfies the Casual Fan

In the olden days of awards shows, if you had any passing interest in the Oscars or Emmys — or in any of the nominated movies and shows — you sat down and watched at least part of the ceremony. Now, the casual fan can follow along on social media, looking at a live-feed of the show via news articles about each winner and wise-acre remarks from their friends.

If a person is interested in red carpet fashion, photos of the stars in their gowns are online hours before the ceremony starts. And if they’re interested in watching the “big moment,” clips are on YouTube before the night is over. If a person doesn’t care about catching the watercooler moment live — say, watching La La Land getting Best Picture instead of Moonlight by mistake — they can just watch the clip the next morning and be caught up.

That’s not to say social media is a blight on award shows; for those who are fans of the shows, the multi-screen experience only enhances how they watch the ceremony. But the casual viewer no longer has to tune in live to see the best nuggets from three-plus hours of TV.

“People still love to tune in to see what people are wearing, but at the same time they could also binge a show while the awards are on and then click through a best and worst photo gallery the next day — on every entertainment [site] — in five minutes,” said Amber Dowling, former president of the Television Critics Association and a writer for Variety and IndieWire.


4. There Are Just Too Damn Many Award Shows

68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards: Jimmy Kimmel, actress Minnie Driver and actor Michael Weatherly (Lester Cohen/WireImage)
(Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

When the Golden Globes moved from cable afterthought to a big network awards night in the early ’00s, it proved to all networks that they don’t just need to air the major award shows in order to attract an audience.

“They’ve cheapened the experience,” Dowling said. “There seems to be a televised awards show for everything these days. There seems to always be a new show on the air doling out trophies, which, sadly, makes them a little less special. The Emmys still hold the greatest prestige on the TV circuit, but mostly because industry insiders care about them, not the general public.”

At a certain point, especially between when the Globes air in January and the Oscars air in February or March, award fatigue sets in. But networks won’t stop airing them.

“The awards shows are very cheap to produce because you get this amazing star wattage for free,” O’Neil said. “You get to see superstars win and lose, just like you and me. It’s vulgar and tasteless, but it’s thrilling to watch because it’s real.”


5. The Shows Are Stodgy Relics

 Bob Hope 25th Annual Academy Awards, first televised presentation, in Hollywood 1953 ( J. R. Eyerman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The Golden Globes holds an audiences every year by keeping the ceremony an intimate banquet where booze flows and generally refusing to take itself seriously. The Grammys were reinvented to look more like the MTV Video Music Awards, filled with performances and light on the actual award-giving, and the excitement generated has boosted the viewership every year.

The Emmys and Oscars, on the other hand, are largely unchanged since at least the 1970s: People in gowns and tuxes reading stiffly off TelePrompTers. Awards for categories no one cares about. A massive orchestra playing people off even if their speeches are entertaining.

“These things are so old-fashioned, if it weren’t for who the nominees were, the broadcast could be coming from 1967,” Thompson said. “The fact is the Oscars and Emmys have a lot of categories, and only so much time to get through them. If it’s anything, it’s an exercise in traffic direction. As long as we stick to that format, there’s not a whole lot you can do within it.”


Making a Case to Disrupt the Status Quo

Is there anything the motion picture and television academies can do to modernize their ceremonies?

“Let’s start by not having another white, male host,” Dowling said. “Make the show more energetic, shorter, and only give out the awards people really want to see live.”

O’Neil said: “They can tweak their voting process to make it more populist, but it’s not their job. The things they can do is have Lady Gaga sing on the Oscars, install populist hosts. But do we want to see Justin Bieber preside over the Emmys when Stephen Colbert is just the right tonic?”

Then again, Thompson said, simply having more moments like this year’s Best Picture blunder could do the ratings a world of good.

“If I were producing these things, I’d script screw-ups,” he joked. “I don’t know how long I’d get away with it, though.”


The 75th Golden Globes ceremony airs Sunday, Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC; the 90th Annual Academy Awards ceremony airs March 4 at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT on ABC. To see more awards season dates, see our “2017-2018 Awards Season Calendar.”

Tag Cloud

jamie lee curtis Shondaland Pet Sematary A&E Rocky RT21 YouTube Red A24 mutant Walt Disney Pictures Nickelodeon Pride Month OWN Disney+ Disney Plus comic joker tv talk cats Sundance Now Opinion Netflix Christmas movies docudrama Comedy Sundance Grammys Pop Teen social media Sony Pictures RT History FXX National Geographic dragons Kids & Family green book Country Horror Valentine's Day cancelled TV shows President game of thrones 2020 San Diego Comic-Con cartoon TCA 2017 TCM DC Universe Avengers Crackle Turner Classic Movies cancelled TV series robots DirecTV Brie Larson Winter TV Sundance TV DC Comics spanish language Marvel Studios Lucasfilm cinemax Super Bowl Box Office Musical spinoff stand-up comedy Paramount Network GIFs Musicals Adult Swim GoT Video Games singing competition Martial Arts OneApp war Tumblr MTV Mindy Kaling psycho spider-man Logo south america Mystery Shudder television Winners AMC First Look SXSW TIFF Watching Series Lionsgate Acorn TV BBC America ABC Family teaser Superheroe technology spy thriller Superheroes elevated horror supernatural Food Network cars cults Academy Awards Black Mirror Rom-Com IFC Set visit DC streaming service Warner Bros. blockbuster 71st Emmy Awards Anna Paquin 007 45 Red Carpet The Arrangement Elton John independent Best and Worst Hulu politics YouTube Premium Premiere Dates talk show Tubi YA reboot hist Classic Film New York Comic Con Character Guide USA Photos Christmas Western Pirates Television Academy BBC Song of Ice and Fire screenings Schedule anime crime thriller zombie crossover biography award winner canceled TV shows blaxploitation sag awards Marathons Mudbound screen actors guild sports Netflix Amazon Prime Video Mary Tyler Moore TCA Winter 2020 Universal Reality discovery Toys Dark Horse Comics facebook Lifetime Christmas movies kids historical drama sitcom The CW Election CMT Amazon period drama APB Apple Ellie Kemper Awards Tour Syfy Tomatazos Apple TV Plus adaptation The Purge 20th Century Fox sequel Women's History Month mockumentary Crunchyroll SundanceTV Quiz Stephen King CW Seed medical drama History romantic comedy versus video Creative Arts Emmys Fall TV Certified Fresh breaking bad VICE HBO Max finale Comedy Central justice league Turner TBS what to watch TCA Sneak Peek witnail nature spain Music crime Binge Guide Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Trivia PBS strong female leads El Rey vampires harry potter Trophy Talk Star Wars ratings Epix binge christmas movies composers werewolf TV renewals serial killer Vudu batman VH1 Fantasy Oscars Reality Competition Freeform Disney Plus transformers 2017 Hallmark Christmas movies festivals X-Men CNN LGBT slashers The Witch WarnerMedia foreign 2015 USA Network Britbox Masterpiece Cartoon Network TLC 24 frames Hallmark E3 children's TV theme song dramedy Disney Paramount Comic Book Emmy Nominations travel Bravo Drama psychological thriller zombies Peacock cancelled television crime drama Spring TV free movies TNT streaming miniseries Nat Geo cops The Walking Dead Nominations Year in Review toy story book IFC Films Marvel unscripted Animation political drama anthology 2019 Holiday HBO Star Trek Spike Summer golden globes Comics on TV TV Land Sci-Fi hispanic Disney Channel Chernobyl dceu Rocketman Baby Yoda canceled renewed TV shows Thanksgiving American Society of Cinematographers 21st Century Fox casting Captain marvel Pixar Esquire rotten movies we love Writers Guild of America Endgame Amazon Prime aliens doctor who Biopics Film Festival Infographic FOX First Reviews PaleyFest dc ESPN revenge ABC Starz Awards SDCC Action 2018 movies quibi Countdown zero dark thirty TV Holidays Apple TV+ 2016 halloween diversity NYCC latino Lifetime MSNBC animated Trailer YouTube Mary poppins NBC Tarantino Spectrum Originals Rock Ovation space science fiction cooking GLAAD LGBTQ Extras natural history thriller game show Polls and Games CBS All Access comics disaster directors Disney streaming service TruTV comiccon Columbia Pictures richard e. Grant name the review Showtime Emmys police drama CBS Marvel Television cancelled true crime Arrowverse Podcast romance series Mary Poppins Returns Ghostbusters E! DGA WGN boxoffice Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt MCU Heroines adventure based on movie Fox News Calendar BET Family See It Skip It Cannes indie ITV Film FX Cosplay Discovery Channel ghosts Interview