The CBS telecast of the 60th Grammy Awards was watched Sunday by 19.8 million viewers, a staggering 24% decline from last year’s show.
The live program from Madison Square Garden in New York, with “The Late Late Show” host James Corden as emcee, drew its smallest audience since 2009, according to Nielsen data.
The rating among viewers ages 18 to 49 — the group important to most advertisers — hit an all-time low, with 5.9% of that audience tuned in compared with 7.8% last year.
The decline in viewership is the latest indication of how awards shows are grappling with dwindling audiences as younger audiences consume highlights online. Other big awards events such as the Oscars and the Golden Globes have seen losses among younger viewers in recent years as well.
Some viewers may have been turned off by the highly political and often somber nature of the evening, which included speeches and performances recognizing the Time’s Up movement and criticizing the Trump administration’s stance on immigration.
A tribute to victims of last year’s mass shooting at a country music concert in Las Vegas and two numbers saluting Broadway — included to note the Grammy ceremony’s return to New York after a 15-year absence — contributed to a preponderance of slow ballads on the program.
Political humor pieces are rare at the Grammys, but several artists — and Hillary Clinton — participated in a segment in which they auditioned to record an audio version of Michael Wolff’s Trump White House tell-all book “Fire and Fury.”
When the program aired, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley responded to the short video with a rebuke, saying on Twitter: “Don’t ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without politics thrown in it.”
Awards shows have seen audience declines as younger viewers seek out the highlights of the telecasts in clips online instead of sitting through an entire program on traditional TV. It’s also likely that more viewers watched a live stream of the program on CBS All Access, the service that enables subscribers to watch the network’s programming online.
CBS said in a statement that live streaming of the Grammy Awards was up 40% over last year, but the network does not release the actual number of people who watched. The company has put the number of streaming subscribers for CBS All Access and Showtime around 4 million.
Although streaming could have cannibalized some of the traditional TV audience, it would not be enough to account for such a steep decline.
The political tone may have been a factor, but past Grammy presentations have confronted social issues. Ratings for the celebration of the music industry are typically driven by audience interest in the performers on the stage.
The Recording Academy, which presents the awards, was lauded for giving unprecedented recognition to hip-hop artists. But most of the performers who appeared on the program did not have the broad appeal of 2017 winners Adele and Beyonce, who both performed on the telecast that year. In 2017, the Grammy Awards drew 26.05 million viewers, a 4% uptick over the previous year.
Lauren Zalaznick, a veteran TV executive who oversaw cable network VH1 during its music programming days, said the Grammy Awards ratings slide demonstrates how it’s becoming more difficult to satisfy an audience with an awards ceremony that covers every genre of music.
“The music industry is probably the most fractured, in terms of consumers, of any sector of the entertainment industry,” Zalaznick said. “So it's near impossible to unite the audience worlds of country, rock, rap, and pop fans over the course of a 3 ½-hour show.”
Although sexual harassment and empowerment of women were addressed during the 2018 Grammy Awards ceremony, there was scant female representation among this year’s nominees, which probably did not help.
Many fans on social media questioned why female star Lorde, nominated for album of the year, did not perform while dad-rock favorite U2 appeared three times, even though the legendary Irish band was not up for a trophy. (Lorde reportedly declined to be part of a Tom Petty tribute.)
Although hip-hop artists were featured prominently on the program, fans of the genre who tuned in did not get the satisfaction of seeing any of them win any of the night’s top awards.
Mainstream singer-songwriter Bruno Mars swept the major awards, winning record of the year, song of the year and album of the year.