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Despite Kobe Bryant tributes, Grammy Awards attracts smallest audience since 2008

Alicia Keys hosts the 62nd Grammy Awards.
Host Alicia Keys honored the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant on Sunday at the Grammy Awards at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The 62nd Grammy Awards turned into a tribute to late Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, but that wasn’t enough to keep the audience from slipping 6% compared with last year.

The Sunday telecast on CBS scored 18.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen data. It was the smallest audience for the annual ceremony celebrating the music industry since 2008.

The telecast from Staples Center in Los Angeles became an impromptu memorial for Bryant, who died just hours earlier in a helicopter crash in Calabasas that also killed eight other people, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter.

The program opened with comments from Grammys host Alicia Keys, who described the arena where Bryant displayed his basketball heroics as “the house that Kobe built.” Other acknowledgments of the fallen NBA icon showed up throughout the night in artist speeches, introductions and on the show’s sets, where Bryant’s Lakers jersey was displayed a number of times.

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The drop comes a year after CBS saw an uptick in the audience for the annual trophy show. Last year the program averaged 19.9 million viewers, a slight rise over 2018, which saw a 24% drop and a nine-year audience low.

The Grammy Awards ratings performance tends to fluctuate based on the broad appeal of the artists nominated. This year’s big winner was Billie Eilish, an 18-year-old newcomer who scored a a historic sweep of the four major Grammy categories — record, song, album and best new artist. She joins yacht rock favorite Christopher Cross as the only artists to achieve the feat. Cross did it in 1981.

The Grammy Awards have been struggling to hold on with younger viewers as it has declined in the 18-to-49 age group that advertisers seek. This year, it hit an all-time-low rating of 5.4, down from a 5.6 rating in 2019.

The 18-to-49 demographic has been declining for all of television as viewers under age 50 increasingly turn to streaming services for video entertainment.

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CBS offers the Grammy Awards to subscribers of its streaming service CBS All Access. CBS does not release audience data on the service but said it did see a significant increase in the number of sign-ups on the day of the telecast.

Sudden celebrity death has boosted the Grammy Awards viewership in the past. Pop superstar Whitney Houston died the night before the 2012 Grammy broadcast. The audience of 39.9 million viewers made it the second-most-watched Grammy ceremony in history, and no audience has approached that size since.

Bryant’s death largely overshadowed the scandal that recently enveloped the Recording Academy, the organization that hands out the Grammy Awards. In the days before the ceremony, much of the focus was on the ouster of Recording Academy Chief Executive Deborah Dugan after an administrative assistant accused her of bullying.

Dugan denied the allegation and said the suspension was in retaliation for shining a light on corruption and improprieties at the academy. In a lawsuit filed last week, she cited irregularities in the nomination process for the Grammy Awards, financial mismanagement and a “boys club” atmosphere in the organization.

At Sunday’s Grammy Awards, highlights included performances by Lizzo; Tyler, the Creator; and a tribute to the late Los Angeles hip-hop artist Nipsey Hussle.


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