The virtual Emmy Awards hit an all-time ratings low with 6.1 million viewers

"Schitt's Creek" stars Eugene Levy, left, and Dan Levy accept an Emmy on Sunday.
(Associated Press )

Despite a history-making night for the comedy “Schitt’s Creek,” the 72nd Emmy Awards continued its ratings slide of recent years, hitting a new all-time low of 6.1 million viewers Sunday.

The three-hour ceremony hosted by Jimmy Kimmel on ABC fell below the previous record low of 6.9 million viewers set last year, according to Nielsen data. Fox carried the 2019 ceremony.

The program was the first major entertainment industry awards show to be held virtually, as safety precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus forced Kimmel to host in an empty theater (he called them the “pand-Emmys”). The health crisis was acknowledged throughout the night as essential workers around the country were enlisted as presenters for some of the awards.

The recipients of the Television Academy’s honors for creativity in the medium over the past year accepted from remote locations, either at their homes or in hotel suites.


At Sunday’s Emmys, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breonna Taylor were remembered. Winners encouraged viewers to vote. And essential workers grounded the show.

Sept. 21, 2020

The Emmy Awards telecast was up against a competitive “Sunday Night Football” contest on NBC and a dramatic NBA Western Conference Finals game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets on TNT.

Although the additional competition and unusual circumstances for the ceremony may have played a role in the ratings decline, the audience levels for the Emmys telecast — watched by 17.7 million viewers in 2013 — have been on a downward trend in recent years.

As streaming services have become the preferred viewing platform for viewers, the Emmy Awards have honored a larger number of niche appeal programs as outlets such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu offer more creative freedom to show producers.

2020 Emmy winner (seven times over) “Schitt’s Creek” went from cult obscurity to fan favorite. Like the series itself, that feel-good story is a solace right now.

Sept. 20, 2020

But the other factor is the diminished number of mass-appeal shows being honored. The last big hit that was also winning Emmy honors was HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which ended its run last year.

“Schitt’s Creek” was the big winner on Sunday, the first series in history to sweep all seven major prize categories. The Canadian TV import about a formerly wealthy family forced to move to a podunk had a cult following during its six-season run in the U.S. on the ViacomCBS-owned cable channel Pop. The program’s profile rose after it became available on Netflix.


HBO’s “Succession,” the darkly comic drama about a family-controlled media company, also scored big on Sunday. It earned a total of nine trophies, including actor in a drama for Jeremy Strong and outstanding drama series.

We followed “Succession” star Nicholas Braun (a.k.a. Cousin Greg) as the HBO series took home best drama at the virtual Emmys. Here’s what it was like.

Sept. 20, 2020

Every entertainment industry awards show has seen audience levels drop as younger viewers are comfortable with streaming clips of the programs online instead of sitting through a three-hour telecast. The Academy Awards also hit an all-time low earlier this year with 23.6 million viewers. And ratings for the Tony Awards dipped in 2019 when it scored 5.46 million viewers on CBS, another new audience low.

Broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox annually rotate the broadcast of the Emmy Awards, paying $9 million a year for those rights, but are seeing virtually no promotional benefit. Not a single broadcast network show received an award during the telecast of Sunday’s ceremony.