What the Grammy Awards viewership decline tells about future

According to the Wall Street Journal, television viewership for the 60th Grammy Awards was down 24 percent from 2017 and the small­est tele­vi­sion au­di­ence for the awards pro­gram since 2009. About 19.8 million tuned in this year vs. 26 million. Usually, an awards show has a lead-in program that shows celebrities on the red carpet, offering mundane chatter. CBS, instead, decided that it will show golf, which in turn could be a reason why the viewership decline.

To give some historical context, In 2001, there were 26.6 million viewers of Grammys. In 2017 there were 26.1 million viewers. In this century, the ratings have seesawed and had fallen drastically to 17 million viewers in 2006 and inched back up after a few years. In other words, this could be just another one of those cyclical downcycles and not so permanent. However, when you look at the decline in 2018 from the context of broader trends in media and consumption, things don’t bode well for Grammys and another live programming, including sports.

  • 1. Linear television is on a permanent decay.
  • 2. Live TV is a multi-screen thing.
  • 3. We stream everything now.
  • 4. Watch it later/YouTube highlights are a norm.

Anecdotally speaking, streaming is much more acceptable behavior now than any time in the past. It also explains why people tried to sign up and download CBS apps to watch the show. News reports say that CBS saw a record high sign-ups for its All-Access service, which currently has 2 million subscribers. The ranking for the All Access app jumped from 325 to 89 on the Apple Store. We live in a multiple-screen universe and media are consumed differently.

But screens have their downside, and that is why I think folks who run live events need to re-evaluate the economics of these events and the premium they command. They are way overpriced as a whole, and way underpriced in consumable bits & pieces.

Modern life and its distractions make it hard to watch a movie at one go, forget a television show interrupted by constant advertising. Competition isn’t channel flipping anymore – we flip the screen and the media altogether. We go from video to web to social to an online video stream elsewhere. It is relatively easy to lose attention and a viewer.

Why sit through the whole show, when you know the best bits are going to be online soon, to be viewed later. Bruno Mars and Cardi B performance from Grammys has 5.2 million views on YouTube. The performances of Logic, Keesha, Lady Gaga and Sam Smith garnered a whopping 4 million views; the numbers are staggering compared to the  “linear television” viewership.

Today’s generation of kids isn’t growing up with live television as their opioid. The iPads, iPhones, and YouTube are now part of modern parenthood. They are all going to watch video on demand; they will watch it in pieces. The idea of sitting down and watching a two-hour show where rockstars get trophies will be nothing more than stuff grandparents talk about when referring to the good old days.

How we consume information and media are changing and will keep changing. And nowhere it is more evident on how we discover, listen and have a relationship with music. I remember as a kid they were such a huge deal. They would influence popular airplay and subsequent music buying decisions. They edited and framed the world for me and many others. Of course, I was naive and didn’t know that it was game, just like Santa Claus wasn’t really real. But before the reality of being a grownup set in, Grammys (much like the Oscars) were appointment television for me, as it was a great show about the music industry.

Today, we live in a world where algorithms determine what surfaces in our streams. Grammys seem to be celebrating the music of the past, which makes no sense since as consumer we now live in the flow, continually craving the new, anything for a dopamine fix. I don’t think Grammys matter to me as a music listener.

I am busy viewing/listening to MixMag DJ sets on YouTube!

A letter from Om

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