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Who cares about the Grammy Awards?

The knee-jerk response might be "hardly anyone" if you study the television ratings. According to Nielsen Media Research, while 51.7 million people tuned in to the awards show in 1984, last year only one-third that amount watched the ceremony -- 17.2 million.

But the influence of the Grammys, which will be presented this Sunday, goes beyond the diminished ratings that have affected virtually every aspect of television.

"The Grammys have always had a significant sales impact," says Silvio Pietroluongo, director of charts for Billboard. "The units sold (for an album one week after a Grammy win) may not be what they were five years ago, but the percentage gains in sales are comparable."

After winning last year's Grammy for album of the year, Herbie Hancock's "River: The Joni Letters" jumped from 5,000 copies sold the previous week to 54,000 copies sold the next -- nearly a tenfold increase. Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" album soared from 25,000 to 115,000 units sold after racking up five Grammy wins, a sales gain of 360%.

As percentages, those increases are not that different from past years. In 1995, Tony Bennett's album "MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett" experienced a 425% boost after nabbing a Grammy for album of the year, climbing from 4,000 to 21,000 copies sold. In 2001, sales for Steely Dan's "Two Against Nature" increased 765% after being named album of the year, an increase from 3,700 to 32,000 copies sold during that one-week span.

Compared to Academy Award-winning films in major categories, Grammy recipients receive a relatively small promotional push following the awards ceremonies. A sticker announcing an artist's Grammy triumph might be affixed to the CD packaging, but generally there are no major billboard or newspaper campaigns.

"Grammys aren't really marketed towards the consumer," says Kenny Kerner, a music industry veteran who founded and directs the music business program at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. "Oscar-winning movies get a tremendous advertising bump, and the Grammys, a much smaller one."

For the latter, the awards telecast itself tends to provide the biggest promotional momentum for participating artists. It's not always about who wins and loses, either, since a compelling live performance on the telecast can have an even greater impact on an artist's career. In 2003, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences convinced Simon & Garfunkel to make a rare appearance on stage at the Grammys. The performance turned out to be a career-altering event for the esteemed '60s duo.

In 2007, the Police used a Grammy performance to help launch their first tour in over 20 years, which proved to be one of the highest-grossing concert treks ever. Others point to Ricky Martin's magnetic 1999 Grammy performance, which helped the Puerto Rican singer break through to the mainstream American market.

"I don't remember whether Ricky won an award," says Don Grierson, an independent music consultant and former vp of A&R for Epic, Capitol and EMI Records. "I just remember that performance. It was electrifying. It was like, 'Oh my God...' That song 'Livin' la Vida Loca' turned out to be a big, big hit for him, and the Grammy performance had a lot to do with that."

"Real artists need showcases to show their uniqueness," he adds. "The Grammys have had problems with ratings ups and downs. But it's still national, it's still the music industry and it's still got a large audience. A magical moment from an artist on the show can really create an identity for them."

And while the Internet is commonly blamed for plummeting CD sales and declining television ratings, Jeff Blue -- an A&R consultant, producer and songwriter -- says the web may actually increase the buzz and viewership around a compelling moment at the Grammy Awards. If music fans miss a thrilling Grammy performance live on television, it will likely be available on YouTube within hours of the telecast. With insta-viral potential like that, who cares about television ratings?
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