Awards Show Ratings Have Leveled Off (or Maybe Bottomed Out)

After steep declines in viewer numbers in 2018, the losses thus far in 2019 have been considerably smaller.
Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images; Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
From left: Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh at the Golden Globes; Alicia Keys at the Grammys

The Oscars, Grammys and Emmys hit all-time ratings lows in at least one measure in 2018. The Golden Globes and SAG Awards fell to multiyear lows, as did a number of other awards telecasts, from the CMA Awards to the MTV Video Music Awards.

With audiences on ad-supported TV continuing to dwindle, it would have been no surprise to see more all-time lows in 2019 — and indeed, that's been the case for demographic ratings for the Grammys and SAG Awards.

But the steep declines of the previous year have leveled off in several awards shows that have already aired in 2019. There have been some declines, but they've been largely in the low single-digits, not the double-digit slides of a year ago. Total viewers for the Globes, SAG Awards and Grammys have been pretty much even with last year's numbers. That practically counts as a win in the Peak TV era.

The Golden Globes telecast on NBC in January slipped by 2 percent in total viewers (19.02 million to 18.61 million), but improved by 4 percent (5.0 rating to 5.2) among adults 18-49. The Grammys edged up in viewers (19.9 million versus 19.8 million), but fell by 5 percent in the 18-49 demo (5.9 to 5.6, the lowest on record).

The SAG Awards had a combined 2.68 million tune in on TNT and TBS, a scant 30,000 fewer than the previous year. The show's decline in adults 18-49 (0.77 to 0.6) was proportionally larger — it fell about 22 percent in the demo — because smaller numbers mean bigger percentage swings.

Combined, the three shows delivered 41.19 million viewers, a 1 percent dip from the 41.52 million they averaged a year ago. Their combined adults 18-49 rating of 11.4 is off less than 3 percent year to year.

In comparison, the five English-language broadcast networks are down about 5 percent in viewers this season (through Feb. 3) and off 10 percent among adults 18-49. Ad-supported cable networks (excluding sports and news channels) fell by 7 percent in viewers and 10 percent in the 18-49 demo in 2018.

Whether that general flattening — or slower bottoming out — continues with the Oscars remains to be seen. ABC and the Film Academy have made several changes to the telecast in the interest of shortening it and potentially re-attracting some of the viewers who have left in recent years.

After initially naming Kevin Hart as host, then cutting ties, the Oscars will go without a host for the first time in 30 years. Four awards will be handed out during commercial breaks, with acceptance speeches aired later in the broadcast.

Three best picture nominees — Black Panther, A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody — have made more than $200 million at the domestic box office, and a fourth, Roma, has been widely available on Netflix for almost two months. Whether interest in those films boosts viewership will be a question for the morning after the Feb. 24 broadcast.