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Are Special Events Special Anymore?

Emmys statueTo perhaps no one’s surprise, the audience for this year’s Emmys broadcast on NBC fell 10 percent from 2017. This means there is a 35 percent fall from the last time NBC aired the awards in 2014. With many hanging their hats on these type of live special events keeping traditional TV relevant, this is not good news. This is particularly true in light of year-to-year declines in other awards shows like the the Grammys (-24%), Oscars (-20%), and Golden Globes (-5%). Only the Tonys showed a stable audience this year, albeit declining long term.

Not-So-Special

What’s contributing to these special events becoming less special? There are a number of possible reasons. Here’s a few from my perspective:

— The increase in viewer choice and purposeful viewing. Created by the same SVOD services that are winning a notable number of Emmys, this means no more viewing of the “least objectionable program.” Would you rather watch a new episode of Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime, or stars slapping each other on the back?

— The same increase in content and viewer fragmentation means less relevance of an Emmy win. I’m a fan of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, and voted for it on my Emmy ballot, but how widely did its big win on Monday night resonate? There are no audience numbers publicly published for Maisel. But in a recent MediaPost report, 76 percent of adults were totally unaware of Maisel. Why watch the Emmys if you’ve never heard of, much less watched, the nominated programs?

— Our changing media dynamic now means that our favorite stars are posting to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere seemingly every day. Whatever mystique there is to seeing stars out of character and being “themselves” is long past.

— And our country’s unfortunate current political dynamic means some people won’t watch award shows because they interpret the entertainment industry to be the domain of liberals. Or, like myself, they want entertainment without a lecture by either side of the political spectrum. I doubt many people tune in to awards shows to become more “woke.” There are more appropriate platforms to change hearts and minds.

Is There a Solution

What’s the solution? I doubt if there is one. At least for the Emmys, the amount of content is unlikely to subside, meaning less viewers per nominated show, and more options for those who don’t want to watch the awards at all. Tweaking the shows to be tighter, shorter, and more entertaining couldn’t hurt. But with the quick collapse of the Oscars’ proposed “popcorn” award, it’s evident that both the industry and the public will see through inauthentic attempts to boost the audience.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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