The Emmy Awards may be the most prestigious event for the television industry, but fewer viewers are tuning in to watch it.
Monday night’s telecast of the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards drew the smallest audience yet, continuing the viewership slide that has coincided with the rise of streaming TV.
NBC’s live broadcast, hosted by “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Update anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che from the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, averaged 10.2 million viewers, down 10.5% from last year’s show, according to Nielsen.
Last year, the Emmys attracted 11.4 million viewers on CBS, a touch above the show’s previous all-time low of 11.38 million in 2016, when ABC had the telecast.
The audience levels for the Emmy Awards have taken a hit since 2013, when the telecast scored 17.7 million viewers on CBS with Neal Patrick Harris as host. The recent decline comes amid the proliferation of programming on online streaming services.
Each year, the Television Academy has been honoring more shows from Netflix, Amazon and Hulu — many of which are not that recognizable to a mass audience that would typically watch an awards show on a large broadcast network.
The big Emmy winner Monday was Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which won five trophies, including the honor for best comedy. HBO’s long-running fantasy hit “Game of Thrones” won for best drama.
“Game of Thrones” was the only series with a sizable audience that received Emmy recognition on the night. The major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) were shut out in the drama and comedy categories.
Preston Beckman, a TV consultant and former network executive for NBC and Fox, said many of the shows on streaming services are designed to get critical accolades and awards instead of mass audiences that the broadcast networks need to target to attract advertisers.
“It’s not cool for Television Academy members to vote for Mark Harmon,” said Beckman, referring to the star of the top-rated CBS crime drama “NCIS.”
As a result, there are too many performers and show titles on the Emmys that are unfamiliar to the casual TV viewer.
“There are so many shows that the chances of you having seen enough of the contenders to say, ‘Well, among these shows I’m interested to see who is going to win’ — keeps disintegrating,” Beckman said.
Only two awards on the televised Emmy ceremony went to one of the four major broadcast networks. One was for direction of this year’s Academy Awards telecast, which aired on ABC. The other was for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which won for best variety sketch series.
Ironically, the four networks are locked into the rotation of carrying the Emmy Awards as each year it becomes more of a promotional platform for the streaming platforms that are cutting into their business.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has struggled with a similar conundrum with its Oscars telecast. Increasingly, the nominees and winners are from art house films with limited appeal, while big box office hits that TV audience would know are largely ignored.
The academy tried to remedy the situation by proposing an award for best popular film. But the idea was widely panned throughout the movie industry and has been put on hold.
The Emmy Awards telecast is not the only trophy show to see smaller audiences, as a growing number of viewers prefer to watch clips of the programs online rather than sit through a three-hour telecast with commercials.
ABC’s telecast of the Oscars was watched by 26.6 million viewers, a decline of 19% from the previous year and a record low for what is perennially the most watched entertainment program of the year. (This year it won’t be as NBC’s drama “This Is Us” had more viewers for its post-Super Bowl airing in February).
CBS’s telecast of the Grammys scored 19.8 million viewers, down 24% from 2017. The Golden Globe Awards have held up better than the others, drawing 19 million in its last airing, a 5% decline from 2017.