TV Ratings: VMAs Slip on Air, Draw Big Social Media Crowd

2020 MTV Video Music Awards- Lady Gaga accepts the MTV Tricon Award-Publicity-H 2020
Viacom/CBS

Lady Gaga accepts the inaugural MTV Tricon Award.

The MTV Video Music Awards posted fairly stable ratings Sunday, despite a very different kind of show than in years past.

The VMAs — which aired on MTV, 11 other ViacomCBS cable networks and The CW (the show's first time on a broadcast network) — were even up by one measure. Per ViacomCBS, "total minutes consumed" of VMAs content on Sunday across all linear and digital platforms rose by 8 percent year to year, to 1.33 billion.

That is not, however a measure of the average TV audience. Linear consumption of the awards, with encores and pre- and post-shows included, was off by about 5 percent at 6.4 million viewers, vs. 6.8 million in 2019. The main show's first airing drew about 4.2 million viewers, pending results from a couple of the smaller channels that aired the awards. That's down about 14 percent from last year and another all-time low.

MTV drew 1.32 million on-air viewers for the main show, per Nielsen ratings, and about 480,000 for the pre-show. The CW brought in 863,000 viewers; none of the other ViacomCBS channels had more than 323,000.

The VMAs, hosted by Keke Palmer and featuring performances from Lady Gaga, BTS, Ariana Grande and others, also racked up big numbers on social media. The show generated 41.1 million social interactions, trailing only the Super Bowl among 2020 telecasts.

With a big arena show ruled out due to COVID-19, the VMAs featured outdoor performances from several locations in New York and remote acceptance speeches along with some in-person appearances. Lady Gaga, for instance, made multiple outfit and mask changes for her times in front of the camera.