awards season

The Golden Globes Ratings Were a Disaster of Epic Proportions

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Hollywood Forei

With few stars and even fewer blockbuster nominees, America pretty much ignored Sunday night’s Golden Globes broadcast. Per Nielsen, an not-so-nice average audience of just 6.9 million watched Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host the bicoastal proceedings on NBC, barely one-third the size of 2020’s viewership (18.3 million) and by far the least-watched ceremony in modern Globes history. The demo ratings were even worse, with the three-hour Zoomathon notching a 1.5 rating with adults under 50, a 68 percent decline from a year ago (4.7). While award-show ratings have taken a beating during COVID, no major event has collapsed so quickly or on a scale similar to Sunday’s swan dive. And, yes, CBS and ABC probably have good reason to be nervous about the prospects for the upcoming Grammy and Oscar telecasts.

There simply is no sugarcoating how awful these numbers are. While the Globes did manage to outdraw last fall’s pandemic Emmys, it wasn’t by much: TV’s top honors drew just 6.1 million viewers on ABC last September, also a record low for that show. But the Emmys fell a much more modest 11 percent from its pre-COVID audience, and in most recent years, the Globes have delivered anywhere from two to three times as many viewers as the Emmys. What’s more, while the Emmys rotate among the four major networks, NBC pays a massive premium for Globes exclusivity. In 2018, Variety reported the Peacock agreed to pay $60 million per year for the Globes as part of a long-term licensing deal; by contrast, most reports have pegged the fee networks pay for the Emmys at closer to $10 million per year.

In fairness to the Globes and NBC, the decline for last year’s Emmys was on the small side in part because that show has been suffering much more consistent audience erosion during the age of Netflix, leaving it with not much more room to decline. Performance-based music awards have taken much bigger hits in recent months, with audiences shrinking between one-third to one-half vs. past years. But the Globes collapse was much more spectacular and painful, in part because NBC invested so much in promoting the show and because it marked the return of Peacock vets Fey and Poehler as hosts. The network and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association decided to invest the resources in the telecast even though all signs pointed to a likely Nielsen disaster: COVID meant a slew of film nominees people either had never heard of or which never played in theaters, as well as the inability for stars to mix and mingle inside a ballroom. Then on top of that, the week before the Globes ceremony was dominated by fallout from a Los Angeles Times investigation which renewed questions about the legitimacy of the awards and revealed a lack of diversity among the show’s voting body.

As for Sunday’s ratings, the previous record low audience for a Globes telecast came in 2009, when the show drew 14.9 million viewers. That low-water mark came a year after the HFPA was forced to cancel its usual ballroom ceremony because of the 2008 Hollywood writers strike. It held a news conference instead, with CNN, E! and TV Guide network joining NBC in reporting the winners live. NBC’s special that night drew 6 million viewers, while it is likely the three cable networks combined to attract at least one million viewers. In any event, when measuring how this year’s Globes did vs. past ceremonies, 2008 doesn’t count since it wasn’t an actual ceremony. But even if it did, it is likely more people watched the winners revealed that year than tuned in to the show this year.

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Golden Globes Ratings Were a Disaster of Epic Proportions