Big Grammy ratings justify CBS’ tape-delay airing on West Coast


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CBS is going with the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach when it comes to airing the Grammys on a tape delay on the West Coast.

Although the Oscar telecast has historically aired live across the country and now the Golden Globes and Emmy awards shows are also live, CBS is not ready to follow suit with the Grammys.


The network’s rationale is simple: more viewers are available to watch the show between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. than they are in the late afternoon.

Given that Sunday night’s show drew almost 40 million people -- its second-biggest audience ever behind the 1984 telecast that saw Michael Jackson sweep the awards -- it is hard to argue with CBS’ logic. The ratings no doubt got a boost from people tuning in to see how the show would handle the passing of pop superstar Whitney Houston on Saturday.

But the audience for the Grammys has been on the rise for the past three years. The 2011 show had almost 27 million viewers. In other words, for now the tape delay does not seem to be hurting the numbers.

With social networking connecting the country in ways that didn’t exist even a decade ago, a case could be made that CBS should air the Grammys live across the nation. West Coast folks who were online when the Grammys were being shown back East may have been frustrated about having to wait to see Adele win six Grammys and Bruce Springsteen’s opening performance.

CBS doesn’t think airing the awards between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the West Coast would give it as big an audience. Advertisers paid about $800,000 for a 30-second commercial. CBS is worried that if it aired the show live, its audience could shrink and hurt its ad revenue.

As for the argument that keeping the Grammys on tape delay is an outmoded way of thinking in the age of Twitter and Facebook, a CBS insider counters that people tune in to the Grammys more to see performances than to see who wins. There isn’t as much of a spoiler element to the show as there may be with the Oscars and Emmys. Some at CBS think the social network chatter actually helps promote the show for the West Coast. The network could try to have its cake and eat it too by airing the show live on the West Coast and then running it again in prime time. But such a move would mean preempting its popular news magazine ’60 Minutes’ as well as convincing its affiliates on the West Coast to give the network extra time to play the show twice.


At some point, it is likely that CBS will decide that it makes more business sense to air the show live across the country. For now though, those griping about the tape delay on Twitter aren’t going to have much luck convincing CBS to change its mind -- unless their names are Procter & Gamble or General Motors.


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-- Joe Flint