With TV viewers increasingly scattered across hundreds of channels, big-time special sporting and awards events are yielding smaller ratings. On Wednesday, ABC said it will no longer air Miss America because its ratings have drifted lower to just 9.8 million viewers. ABC, which aired the Emmy Awards last month also witnessed historically lower ratings with the broadcast down to 13.7 million viewers in 2004 from 21 million in 2000.
Miss America used to be a show rivaling bigger award shows such as the Grammys and the Academy Awards. In 1994, it grabbed 26 million viewers. Miss America isn't alone in its downward spiral. The Tony Awards telecast has also been slipping, now posting a scant 6.4 million viewers this year. In 1997, the show's audience was more than double that at 13 million.
National advertisers still want major "events" such as the Super Bowl, which performs well and is the dominant leader - grabbing some 89.7 million viewers this year. Other big special shows include the Academy Awards (45.5 million) followed by steady performers such as the Grammys (26 million). How important are major specials -- now that they are no longer such big- rated specials?
Less so, according media buying executives. When it comes to single high-priced TV programs, they generally advise middle-size media budget clients to spend their money more wisely. For instance, dropping $2.5 million for one thirty-second spot in the Super Bowl could be used to buy a lot of cable, syndication, and some network programs. The same is true for the hefty $1.4 million price for Academy Awards.
Where are the new big specials coming from now? Well, there aren't many 'big' events. But more award shows are coming from cable. Look at MTV's "Video Music Awards," which improved to 10.4 million this year from 5 million in 2004. All this has every cable network airing their own awards effort -- from ESPN to Spike TV to G4TechTV.
These cable events are generally more modest efforts than broadcast. Miss America tried to sex up the show in recent years with fewer clothes and more skin. Now, with cable they'll no doubt look to cost cutting. Contestants will probably need to share bathing suits -- or offer more modest pronouncements in feeding poor children or inspiring peace in the world.