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

cinemax YouTube 45 versus Pop New York Comic Con cooking Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt thriller lord of the rings slasher Amazon Studios true crime Television Critics Association book superhero LGBT hispanic australia docudrama Kids & Family IMDb TV laika Comics on TV Elton John First Reviews TNT Fox Searchlight Country jurassic park Arrowverse VICE Nickelodeon sports Britbox series gangster Lifetime Christmas movies pirates of the caribbean razzies HFPA Trivia parents blockbusters natural history FX on Hulu wonder woman Animation films Winter TV werewolf Thanksgiving critics Adult Swim streaming crossover Cannes Spectrum Originals Biopics scary movies sequel vampires king arthur boxoffice black popular anthology live action 90s stop motion Acorn TV Rom-Com Logo theme song Exclusive Video TBS latino football Oscars adventure war satire Netflix Christmas movies A&E criterion SDCC The Purge Western zombies Apple Classic Film Vudu OWN spider-verse fresh cancelled japanese trophy cars 2015 TV renewals Sneak Peek summer preview Funimation comics ITV Best Director Star Trek LGBTQ king kong comic books 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Martial Arts Disney black comedy Columbia Pictures ViacomCBS Pacific Islander independent BET debate Premiere Dates slashers Certified Fresh discovery Focus Features Mindy Kaling hist richard e. Grant revenge game of thrones Hollywood Foreign Press Association chucky basketball rt archives 73rd Emmy Awards X-Men know your critic Lionsgate name the review classics green book Musicals Masterpiece sitcom Starz Paramount Pictures scorecard posters 2019 Fantasy APB ABC Signature Winners saw indiana jones godzilla DGA TCA Winter 2020 monster movies reviews live event ghosts mutant AMC Plus 93rd Oscars Holidays TV One universal monsters feel good HBO international Summer rt labs Disney Plus spanish OneApp stoner TLC Crackle sequels summer TV preview Fargo Tarantino binge based on movie superman Red Carpet nature Apple TV+ Teen cancelled TV shows Oscar Ovation 2020 indie BET Awards zombie Freeform comic book movie cops Black Mirror Lifetime Universal Family Marvel jamie lee curtis Neflix Shondaland canceled new star wars movies PBS TCA Awards Nominations comic book movies free movies doctor who CMT Year in Review new zealand critic resources venice rt labs critics edition Opinion diversity Schedule Photos Television Academy FOX Best Actor NBA Character Guide Sundance Now Trophy Talk remakes mcc 2016 Turner Quiz blockbuster composers AMC obi wan festivals robots Sony Pictures Awards police drama adaptation travel Countdown 72 Emmy Awards cults 4/20 The Walking Dead Trailer BBC One WarnerMedia Spike harry potter child's play Baby Yoda book adaptation cats Mary Poppins Returns RT21 Amazon Prime dc Toys President scary dragons MTV dramedy Mudbound what to watch A24 Binge Guide Pixar 99% DC streaming service Emmy Nominations DirecTV Women's History Month emmy awards medical drama screen actors guild Turner Classic Movies Election justice league 94th Oscars Extras psychological thriller Stephen King YouTube Premium transformers Spring TV 79th Golden Globes Awards Emmys Nat Geo Fall TV HBO Max Hulu NYCC royal family Bravo singing competition ABC BBC target streaming movies Lucasfilm Captain marvel Showtime stand-up comedy documentary Rocketman Esquire batman worst NBC action-comedy Legendary CBS festival Netflix FXX USA Network Amazon Prime Video Ellie Kemper Sundance streamig Disney+ Disney Plus 007 IFC Films high school Syfy The Academy Writers Guild of America Discovery Channel facebook El Rey Mary Tyler Moore art house period drama telelvision South by Southwest Film Festival aliens HBO Go History GoT women Tags: Comedy 1990s comiccon comedies MCU YouTube Red joker dreamworks toy story aapi all-time nfl Ghostbusters movie unscripted dogs Avengers cartoon San Diego Comic-Con scene in color Marvel Studios SXSW mob witnail christmas movies french Paramount Network Apple TV Plus hidden camera Marvel Television Heroines Comedy Central BAFTA rotten Mary poppins asian-american Hear Us Out cancelled TV series Marathons new york boxing Food Network award winner 2018 Crunchyroll E! IFC Musical Best and Worst See It Skip It toronto Song of Ice and Fire technology zero dark thirty suspense spider-man hispanic heritage month vs. ABC Family Tomatazos E3 National Geographic Calendar ESPN Endgame Tumblr 2017 serial killer USA sag awards rotten movies we love summer TV 2021 twilight Anna Paquin hollywood disaster Christmas Hallmark Christmas movies ratings Box Office Infographic Video Games space DC Universe golden globe awards 71st Emmy Awards Alien Best Actress franchise Holiday Rocky james bond CBS All Access Music screenings Grammys casting Instagram Live japan Pet Sematary elevated horror Cartoon Network cancelled television GLAAD dexter marvel cinematic universe 20th Century Fox psycho First Look biopic south america anime game show WGN mockumentary Mystery Black History Month quibi crime drama VH1 VOD blaxploitation Wes Anderson Prime Video spain Super Bowl Pride Month Reality golden globes politics Cosplay kids video 21st Century Fox crime thriller TCM leaderboard spanish language rom-coms Disney streaming service Polls and Games The CW CNN Fox News The Arrangement Awards Tour romantic comedy Dark Horse Comics Warner Bros. movies marvel comics The Witch TruTV animated adenture PaleyFest American Society of Cinematographers Drama Rock canceled TV shows spy thriller Reality Competition die hard Film Festival Superheroes Star Wars Creative Arts Emmys Amazon ID breaking bad Image Comics Chilling Adventures of Sabrina best Comic-Con@Home 2021 Travel Channel docuseries Hallmark Sundance TV Tokyo Olympics FX kong concert halloween Academy Awards deadpool Epix CW Seed social media Broadway a nightmare on elm street supernatural Horror directors olympics video on demand reboot Superheroe obituary strong female leads Best Picture TCA 2017 MGM Pirates PlayStation GIFs The Walt Disney Company spinoff Tubi legend fast and furious Comedy children's TV teaser sopranos Sci-Fi Watching Series prank television political drama Pop TV miniseries Walt Disney Pictures SundanceTV documentaries TCA finale Universal Pictures tv talk trailers kaiju Brie Larson crime Film Paramount Plus broadcast TV Land Podcast genre italian Paramount mission: impossible YA halloween tv biography foreign Chernobyl TIFF Set visit Disney Channel MSNBC young adult Comic Book DC Comics science fiction romance Interview SXSW 2022 talk show TV movies renewed TV shows historical drama worst movies RT History dark comic news 24 frames Valentine's Day Action Shudder archives TV nbcuniversal dceu BBC America Peacock heist movie