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71st Emmy Awards draw a record-low 6.9 million viewers

An Emmy awarded
Viola Davis gives Peter Dinklage his Emmy for supporting actor in a drama series at the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The 71st Emmy Awards were a celebration of streaming and premium cable shows with not a single scripted broadcast network TV program receiving an on-stage honor Sunday.

The trend is the most likely reason why the broadcast on Fox averaged 6.9 million viewers, a new low. The figure from Nielsen is down 32% from NBC’s telecast last year, which drew 10.2 million.

The dramatic decline is likely to lead the major broadcast networks, which rotate the telecast each year, to examine why the ceremony celebrating the past year in television is turning off viewers. The Television Academy receives an annual rights fee of around $9 million for the broadcast rights for the event, which lost viewers for the second straight year.

One network executive speaking on the condition of anonymity said that each year the Emmys looks more like an “infomercial” for Netflix, Amazon and Hulu — the streaming services that are chipping away chunks of the traditional TV audience.

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In 2013, before streaming gained its current dominance, the Emmy Awards averaged 17.8 million viewers on CBS.

The lack of familiarity of some of the streaming hits among the TV audience is also a likely factor in the ratings decline.

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While HBO was the biggest Emmy winner with 34 trophies overall, Amazon’s “Fleabag,” starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a sexually impulsive single woman, won four awards during the telecast, including best comedy. Although it has a strong following among critics and peak TV cognoscenti, “Fleabag” is far from being a pop culture touchstone in many American households (the show is a co-production of the BBC).

Streaming is increasingly the video platform of choice, especially for younger viewers, but the most popular shows are those that previously ran on the broadcast networks such as “Friends,” “The Office,” “The Golden Girls” and “Seinfeld.”

Nonetheless, classic or current broadcast television had a small presence on the three-hour program, which did not have a host. NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” was the only broadcast series recognized, earning two Emmys.

All of the major entertainment award shows have been in decline in recent years as younger viewers are content to watch clips of the events on social media platforms.

But the audience level for the Grammy Awards telecast stabilized in February. The Oscars, which like the Emmys was also presented without a host, saw in ratings increase this year, largely due to having more widely seen movies such as “Black Panther” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” nominated for awards.

The presence of streaming was also evident in the commercial breaks during the Emmy telecast. Many of the spots promoted the new original series coming from Apple TV, adding another deep-pocketed competitor to the crowded programming landscape.


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