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The 2020 Emmy Awards Were the Least-Watched Ever

Photo: ABC via Getty Images

Oh, Schitt: The TV audience for Sunday night’s virtual Emmy Awards fell to 6.1 million viewers, easily making it the least-watched in Nielsen ratings history. Despite some really good reviews, the Jimmy Kimmel–hosted event managed to drop about 13 percent below the low-water mark set by last year’s hostless Emmys, which averaged 7 million same-day viewers on Fox, according to Nielsen. Ratings for awards shows have been trending way down in recent years, along with everything else on traditional TV, but the 2020 Emmys also had to contend with unprecedented sports competition.

While TV’s biggest night has been competing against Sunday (and sometimes Monday) football for years now, last night’s Emmys also had to go up against NBA Finals coverage on cable, drawing away millions of viewers who might otherwise have been tempted to check out the curiosity of a mostly remote major awards show. (It didn’t help that Sunday’s marquee NBA and NFL games were “nail-biters,” as Anthony Crupi of Sportico put it.) Indeed, the Emmys suffered an even bigger decline among younger viewers because of the sports competition, with Sunday’s telecast averaging a mere 1.2 rating with adults under 50. That’s 30 percent below last year’s show (1.7 rating) and fully half of what the Emmys did on NBC in 2018 (2.4 rating.)

It’s worth keeping in mind that in addition to the historic trends (i.e., Netflix) bringing down ratings for linear TV nearly across the board, the Emmys have become increasingly disconnected from the shows people who watch broadcast TV are most into. Not a single broadcast network TV show was honored last night, with most of the awards going to a basic cable comedy a lot of people watched via Netflix (Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek) and a pay-cable drama (HBO’s Succession.) As Crupi also noted last night, before today’s ratings came in, “Given that the broadcast now functions as a three-hour infomercial for the streaming services and premium cable networks that are gobbling network TV’s lunch, it’s probably for the best that relatively few people are watching.”

The other challenge the 2020 Emmys faced: Pandemic-caused production delays have meant broadcast networks such as ABC have been heavy on reruns over the summer, even more so than is usual during the period. Networks either couldn’t get summer shows produced on time because of last spring’s shutdowns or chose to save original episodes of what they did have on hand for fall, knowing most of the usual scripted tent poles would be delayed. The result is that fewer people were watching broadcast TV over the summer and have gotten out of the habit of doing so. (They also weren’t seeing the many promos ABC and Disney-owned cable networks aired hyping the show.) Indeed, ABC noted in a press release that as bad as these numbers were by historic standards, the Emmys actually helped the network score its biggest audience on a Sunday since April. Yay?

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The 2020 Emmy Awards Were the Least-Watched Ever