Why are fewer people watching award shows?

Viewership totals for all four major award shows plummeted to a fraction of what they once were. It’s a decline trending in the wrong direction.
Posted at 3:59 PM, Mar 01, 2023

You may not remember who won best picture at the 2022 Oscars, but you’ll probably never forget when a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith led her husband, Will Smith, to slap Chris Rock at the ceremony. 

While the moment broke a YouTube record of 50 million views in a single day, the entire 2022 Oscar ceremony only received 16 million viewers, the second-lowest number in history for the academy. 

Live televised award shows have been losing viewers for years.  

From the 80s to the early 2000s, the Academy Awards reached around 40-50 million viewers each year.  

The Grammy and Emmy awards averaged around 20 million views every year, and the Golden Globes typically averaged around 15-20 million viewers, since NBC picked up the awards in 1996. 

But just last year, viewership totals for all four major award shows plummeted to a fraction of what they once were. It’s a decline trending in the wrong direction. The reason, according to industry experts, is a major shift in viewership behavior and the rise of streaming services.  

Gold Derby contributor Charlie Bright, says the decline also has to do with the changing nature of award shows.  

"People don't feel like they need to sit through a three and a half hour ceremony, they can just hear about what's going on and then just go to YouTube and watch it," Bright said. 

Today, ceremonies like the Oscars include performances and comedy skits, in an attempt to bring in more viewers. 

"There are things that can feel like painfully awkward sometimes, like presenter banter can be a mood killer for some people," Bright said. "There's not as much of a of a thirst for random musical numbers, with, you know, random Hollywood stars."  

Judges are also not nominating blockbuster films or shows among the most-watched.  

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A 2017 survey found only 5% of respondents watched The Handmaid’s Tale, the eventual Emmy winner for best drama. 

"It's a much broader swath of content out there. And so we're not all invested in the same things in the same way that we used to be," he said. 

Viewership has also declined in recent years over concerns of underrepresentation in award shows. 

In 2015, the hashtag #OscarssoWhite went viral, as the 20 acting nominations for the Academy Awards only went to White actors. 

"I think people don't just want these awards to be fair, but they want them to be representative. And they want to make sure that everyone actually has a fair shot to participate and to win," said Betsy Walters, a Ph.D. candidate in American & New England studies at Boston University. 

According to Bright and Walters, the Grammys made a surprising comeback in February, grabbing 12.4 million viewers, a 30% increase from last year.  

 They say star-powered guests and performance selections, helped entice people to watch. 

"It makes sense that the Grammys would do that, and with performances from, you know, people like Beyoncé, Lizzo, Harry Styles and Belinda Carlisle," Bright said.  

"Beyoncé also broke the record this year, so I'm sure that was a big factor," Walters said.   

According to Bright and Walters, television and film awards need to focus on their specific audiences, rather than musical performances. 

"I feel like if they could just work on thinking, 'what do the people who already watch this, let's give them a good show rather than trying to cater to something that's not there,'" Bright said.  

"Their best shot is to hope that a massive, massive blockbuster, or like a marvel movie, or something that kind of captures the world's attention is legible enough to academy voters that they'll nominate it," Walters said.  

Despite declining viewership award shows are not leaving television just yet. Bright says they might just be changing format, shifting away from live TV to streaming and social media.