March 24, 2021

And the Winner Isn’t…

Thoughts on the Future of Awards Shows on TV

It was not that long ago that network broadcasts of awards shows were “Appointment Television.” With the exception of major sports, the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, and Golden Globes were generally the top viewed and most talked-about broadcasts on network TV each year. These award shows were woven into our culture, with many fans setting up betting pools, throwing parties, and voicing strong opinions about the performance of the hosts, and networks charging top dollar for advertising during the event.

Recently and with little exception, the top awards shows have seen multi-year declines in their television viewership. Thus far in 2021, viewership has been historically dismal, with the Golden Globes falling 63% and the Grammys tumbling 51% from their already diminished 2020 levels. Next month’s broadcast of the Oscars will likely see a repeat of 2020’s all-time low viewer numbers.

Will viewership ever return to noteworthy levels or are award shows the relic of a bygone era?

Viewership Trends

Each of the four major awards shows has lost +50% of their audience over the past 10 years. While the pandemic clearly has accelerated the decline in viewership, it is not the only factor.

Reasons for Audience Declines

  • Quantum Viewing – Americans have taken control over the way they consume media. People are now time, place, device, and media shifting, meaning that networks are no longer just competing with other networks, today they are competing with all other media. The general trend away from live-linear TV, especially true in the younger demographics, is a troubling sign for the future of awards shows.
  • Broadcasts are too long – Americans are no longer willing to sit through 3+ hours of awards shows. Furthermore, these broadcasts contain an ever-increasing commercial load making the show choppier and less interesting.
  • Politics and Controversy – Americans look to television as an escape. Infusing too much controversial, political, and social messaging is a turn-off to many viewers. All-too-often, celebrities stoke controversy, some for the sake of self-aggrandizement, which veers away entirely from the show’s purpose.
  • Winners Are Too Predictable and Shows Too Formulaic – The 24-hour news cycle, bloggers, and pundits have provided the American public with so much information that the suspense is now completely absent from awards programs. The actual content of the broadcasts has not changed much over the years, but viewers have, and they expect more.

The Good News: Revenue
According to Kantar Media, Academy Awards viewership fell -20.6% from 2015 to 2019, but revenue grew 2.4%.

It should be noted that ad buys are completed well in advance of the broadcasts, and networks have been adding more commercial time to offset some of the expected revenue shortfall. This trend cannot last forever, but thus far ad dollars have prevented a total collapse of the genre.

Turnaround Strategy
Award shows have remained much the same for years. While there is something to be said about tradition, the producers and marketers of these broadcasts need to do more to embrace the viewing habits of the younger generations while not alienating the older folks who are the most loyal viewers. Below are recommendations to lure back an audience.

  • Broadcast length – Award show run times are way too long. Removing extraneous performances and airing only the significant awards would be helpful.
  • Build Buzz – Embrace social media. Let fans voice their opinion and feel like they are a part of the process. Much like sports, shows should welcome interactivity and wagering.
  • Alternative Broadcasts – License live streams with additional perspectives to let fans have greater access to the programs. Encourage feedback.

For Specific Award Shows:

  • The Academy Awards should return to the hosted format. Encourage sincerity and limit self-promotional controversy and poorly scripted banter.
  • TV Producers for the Grammy Awards should work closely with the Recording Academy (formerly NARAS) to improve the nominating and voting process. The awards are too predictable because the most popular, non-controversial acts always win. Also, snubs, always against women and minorities, happen far too often. The awards should focus more on great music, creativity, and contributions to the music community.
  • Intended to represent the tastemakers in Hollywood, the Golden Globes has instead tried to balance taste-making against attracting the biggest stars to attend. This has resulted in an identity crisis. What should be an edgy lead up to the Academy Awards has in recent years not lived up to the billing. The Globes should return to its original intent and let the stars fall where they may.
  • First, the Emmys need a host. Second, more and more awards are going to premium TV companies like HBO (WarnerMedia), Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon – outlets with viewers who may have cut the cord and are therefore unable to access traditional network TV. It would be smart to make the Emmys more widely available to fans.

While viewership levels continue to fall, ad revenues continue to hold steady; could 2021 be the year that convinces advertisers to move their dollars elsewhere? That remains to be seen. As long as revenues remain constant, network executives will hesitate to take too many risks to improve ratings.

Out of all of the challenges that the awards shows face, the number one is great content. In recent years, movies have not been great, music has not been great, and the talent (actors and musicians) are too caught up in self-promotion to think about the industry as a whole.

The awards shows can be saved, but it will take a concerted effort by all parties to improve the product. This means embracing all forms of media for show promotion and re-building a community of fans and real buzz. The possibilities are there, the question is will anyone pursue them?

Stick with TDG to Stay in front of the Curve.


A 20-year veteran media executive, Rob Silvershein’s success in today’s competitive media environment is a direct result of his unique experiences spanning traditional, emerging, and startup media platforms. He is an accomplished strategist and spends most of his time advising media companies on how to structure themselves for long term success. He currently lives in Manhattan Beach, CA.

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