No one is watching awards shows like they used to.
In mid-January, the Golden Globes only managed to draw 6.3 million television viewers, representing the lowest numbers in several years and a 26% decrease in audience compared to 2021. That particular awards show has been plagued by controversy for years as critics accused the Hollywood Foreign Press Association of being racist.
But no one watched the ceremony even after they spent a full year fine-tuning diversity initiatives.
The Globes are not the only awards show suffering from a chronic lack of viewers. In September, the 74th Annual Emmy Awards attracted a mere 5.9 million eyes, a huge 25% drop from the previous year’s show. The event, touted as “television’s biggest night,” fell short of expectations in 2022.
Meanwhile, even the glitz and glamor of the Oscars wasn’t enough to draw people in like it has in the past. The 94th Academy Awards was a huge fail as it represents the second-least watched Oscars in the history of the show since Nielsen started tracking viewers in the mid-1970s.
There was a time when major broadcasts like the Academy Awards attracted an audience second only to the Super Bowl. So what’s going on with awards shows? Are TV watchers just over it?
There are several explanations for what’s going on and most of them aren’t pandemic related. But the pause in live broadcasts did affect viewership numbers and those people realized they don’t miss watching enough to tune back in.
“Once you’ve broken the habit, it’s hard to get them back,” said Preston Beckman, a media consultant who worked previously at Fox and NBC, told the LA Times of people abandoning awards shows.
The same article noted that members of the 18 to 49 demographic, which they identified as the most attractive to advertisers, are not interested in live broadcasts the same way previous generations were. These viewers are hooked on streaming services, and while that may mean missing out on Will Smith slapping Chris Rock on live TV, there’s always Twitter and thousands of follow-up memes to catch them up on what happened.
There’s a consensus among viewers that these shows are long, boring, and unnecessary. Even TV and movie fans who put value in which projects win don’t care to spend three hours of their lives waiting to find out the results.
Further, awards shows aren’t doing themselves any favors by nominating obscure, niche films that most people haven’t heard of. Would-be viewers are less likely to watch because they don’t agree that these are the best entertainment being created.
“As social media has risen, awards shows generally have declined because award shows represent a very top-down structure. ‘We, institution, will tell you, customer, what it is that you should like,’” Berklee College of Music professor George Howard told BU News Service of why people were tuning out. “Now, that’s been inverted, where it’s ‘we, customer, will tell you, institution, what we like.’”
And let’s not forget one of the most common complaints about watching millionaires hand each other gold statues, a sentiment which rubs some people wrong even when the economy is healthy.
“The problem is, the big stars are completely dependent on the institution, so they have to play along with the charade that is totally self-congratulatory and totally divorced from any type of reality in order to keep the gravy train going,” Howard observed. “People, frankly, do not care.”
There’s another important problem with awards shows that the media rarely talks about. As the industry becomes increasingly politicized, celebrities are using awards speeches as a platform to broadcast their Left-wing talking points, which is in turn alienating half their potential audience. Viewers are sick of being lectured, so they’re simply not watching anymore.
Even the LA Times admitted this was a major culprit for the viewership decline, writing, “some audience members don’t want to hear stars presenting their political positions on the programs.”
Awards show organizers have been working hard to bring the audience back. In 2020, the HFPA invited Ricky Gervais to host the Golden Globes, knowing he’d be controversial enough to attract viewers on both sides of the political spectrum.
The British comedian absolutely skewered members or “woke” Hollywood, telling jokes about Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, Prince Andrew, and MeToo while movie stars like Tom Hanks looked on with looks of pure shock on their faces.
“You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything,” he told the gathered crowd of celebrities. “You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.”
“If you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your God and f*** off,” he said. “You say you’re woke but the companies you work for in China — unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?”
Gervais isn’t conservative, but it had been so long since liberals allowed honest jokes that viewers immediately branded him that way.
“How the f*** can teasing huge corporations and the richest, most privileged people in the world be considered right-wing?” he wondered on Twitter.
Predictably, Gervais wasn’t invited back to host the Globes. But it’s unclear if a provocative host would do anything to delay the continuing slow death march of the once mighty award show genre.
The reality is that ABC, CBS, and NBC all pay extraordinary licensing fees to broadcast these awards shows. If viewership continues declining, there could come a point when the networks consider it too costly to keep them just for nostalgia’s sake.
And if they went away, would anyone care that much?