ABC’s telecast of the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards was watched by an average of 11.3 million viewers on Sunday, an all-time low for the ceremony.
The figure for the live event emceed by ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel is down 5 percent from last year’s previous low of 11.9 million viewers on Fox, according to Nielsen data.
It’s the third consecutive year that ratings have dropped since the Emmys drew 17.7 million viewers for the 2013 telecast on CBS hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. That’s the last time ratings increased from the previous year. Ratings have been sliding as more statuettes and nominations have been lavished on shows that do not have the kind of broad appeal as broadcast network programs.
While the big winners on the night were FX’s limited series “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and HBO’s wildly popular “Game of Thrones,” much of the ceremony celebrated shows and actors who are well-known to TV cognoscenti but a mystery to large swaths of the mass audience.
Billie Gold, vice president of programming research at Amplifi US, a media buying company, said the Emmy recognition of high-quality shows across different platforms is laudable, but “these are not programs that the preponderance of the viewing audience watches. The unfamiliarity of the shows being honored tends to lead to lower ratings and less overall interest.”
The lower Emmy ratings are also another byproduct of the fragmented TV marketplace. Even though younger audiences are flocking to shows that are streamed online, they are also less likely to sit through a live awards show the way their parents did when fewer viewing options were available.
In Los Angeles, the telecast averaged a 9.5 rating. New York was the top-rated market with a 14.5 rating. Chicago ranked fifth with a 10.3 rating. Each rating point represents a percentage of the TV households in a market.
Since 2006, the Emmys have been vulnerable to competition from NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” On Sunday, NBC averaged 22.8 million viewers for the Minnesota Vikings’ 17-14 win over the Green Bay Packers.
But this year TV viewers also had another significant alternative to the Emmys – part one of the CBS miniseries “The Case of JonBenet Ramsey,” an examination of the 1996 unsolved murder of the 6-year-old beauty queen who was found dead in the basement of her parents’ Boulder, Colo., home.
The two-hour program averaged 10.3 million viewers from 8:30-10:30 p.m. ET.
The scheduling of the heavily promoted two-part series was an uncharacteristically aggressive move against the Emmys telecast, which rotates among the broadcast networks every year.
CBS will have the Emmy telecast in 2017. But CBS had little to lose by competing with ABC this year, as it had only four nominees (and no winners) among the 27 categories recognized with awards during the televised ceremony.
Privately, broadcast network executives have grumbled that their shows get less recognition on the Emmys telecast each year and that the ceremony has in effect become a three-hour promotional video for cable networks and streaming services.
Amazon and Netflix earned five statuettes for their streamed shows, more than the four Emmy awards picked up by the broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.
Even though the 11.3 million was a record low for an Emmy telecast, the awards are perhaps even more coveted in the TV industry as they help shows stand out in a crowded marketplace. Sunday’s event gave massive exposure for such winning series as “Transparent” and “Master of None,” which are available only on streaming platforms.
Cult cable shows get a boost as well. BBC America’s “Orphan Black” averaged 720,000 for its season premiere back in April, a number that includes seven days of DVR playback. On Sunday, an Emmy audience 14 times as large saw its star, Tatiana Maslany, win for lead actress in a drama series.
HBO once made a bid to get the television rights to the Emmys. But according to one company executive speaking on the condition of anonymity, the premium cable network now believes it gets a better deal by having its Emmy victories shown on a broadcast network available to every household.
The continued shift of Emmy wins to cable networks and streaming services are helpful to their efforts in attracting writers, producers and actors. Each year they see their chances of getting recognition from the Television Academy is greater on those platforms than having a series on a broadcast network. But TV studio executives note that the financial rewards of having a successful series on broadcast television are still far greater.