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Data: Nielsen; Chart: Axios Visuals

Viewership of Sunday's 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards dropped 11% year-over-year to 6.1 million viewers, according to preliminary ratings from Nielsen. Viewership from people ages 18-49, the prized advertising demographic, fell to a new low of just 1.2 million viewers.

Why it matters: Award shows have been experiencing a terminal ratings decline in recent years, alongside traditional television viewership more broadly. Even before the pandemic, the Oscars and Grammys saw historically low ratings earlier this year.

Be smart: It could be that more viewers are tuning into the ceremonies online via streaming or social media, but the award show industry is riddled with may other issues that are likely impacting viewership.

  • Experts argue that the industry has become too bloated. There are dozens of awards shows for television and film, including the Emmys, the Daytime Emmys, the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, the Critics' Choice Movie and TV Awards, the MTV Movie Awards and more.
  • In music, there are dozens of shows for specific music genres, like the Country Music Awards and BET Hip Hop Awards, as well as different shows for certain demographics, like the Kids Choice Awards, Teen Choice Awards, etc.
  • Research shows that consumers think the events have gotten too long to capture their attention, especially in an era where 15-second mobile videos on TikTok are all the rage. Some also think the shows have become too political.

The big picture: The virtual nature of this year's television events may have also contributed to viewership decreases.

The bottom line: Audiences have been tuning out of award shows on TV for years, but that trend has been exacerbated in 2020 amid the pandemic and a streaming TV boom.

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Sep 21, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Virtual Emmys address chaotic year

Emmy Host Jimmy Kimmel during rehearsals Friday for the 72nd Annual Emmy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Photo: Al Seib/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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Why it matters: Award shows have always addressed wider cultural issues, but this year — amid unprecedented stress and uncertainty — that trend has accelerated.

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