Why The Tonys And Emmys Struggle For Ratings

Sunday’s 77th Tony Awards on CBS reportedly drew an audience of 3.5 million, which is down from 4.3 million last year.

Last January’s 75th Emmy Awards on Fox drew 4.3 million, down from the previous Emmy show on NBC back in September 2022. That show had total viewership of 5.92 million.

While the Tonys and Emmys each award achievements in two very different media, some of the reasons their audiences are small and declining are similar.

By contrast, the 96th Oscars on ABC in March drew 19.5 million, which was up about 700,000 viewers from 2023.



The Oscars’ growth was modest, while last February’s Grammy Awards on CBS saw a 34% increase year-to-year -- 16.9 million this year and 12.55 million in 2023.

Perhaps the growth for the Oscars and Grammys can be explained with a vast generalization: Movies still have a special allure that puts the movie business at the top of the entertainment pyramid, and the recording industry is not far behind.

You might even say that despite the many different audience segments served by movies and music -- young, midlife and older -- they both still enjoy a mass appeal that draws audiences to their award shows.

But let’s look at the Tonys. The Best Musical this year was “The Outsiders,” the singin’, dancin’ adaptation of the 1967 coming-of-age novel of the same title by S.E. Hinton. 

It was previously adapted for a non-musical movie in 1983 directed by Francis Coppola.

The Tony Awards’ Best Play this year was “Stereophonic,” about a rock group on the verge of stardom in the 1970s. 

I have not seen either of them, but my experience in attending Broadway shows over the years tells me they’re probably great. Otherwise, they would not have won these awards.

But despite the crowds that throng the Theater District during peak tourist seasons in New York -- basically, all year round except the dead of winter after the holidays -- Broadway is a niche entertainment medium.

The main reason is pretty obvious: Broadway musicals and plays are live, and must be seen in New York City. 

They have none of the reach and brand-awareness of movies, music and TV simply because they have no national footprint. 

Under these circumstances, 3.5 million people tuning in to watch on a Father’s Day in June is not so bad.

Live theater has plenty of fans. Many people make it a point to see the top shows.

Broadway generally is so renowned that families from out of town save for years to plan a trip to New York City and have the Broadway experience.

But other than people planning a trip to New York, how many people have ever heard of “The Outsiders” or “Stereophonic”? 

With no awareness of these shows, and no firsthand experience with the nominated shows, the Tonys are not exactly top-of-mind for most.

TV is different than live theater in a very obvious respect. In its reach, TV is on par with movies and music, and maybe even surpasses them.

TV is everywhere, the business is fond of saying, and it is true. But at the same time, audiences for its many shows -- numbering in the thousands or more -- are small compared with the mass-appeal TV shows of long ago.

Still, last January’s winner for Best Drama, “Succession,” certainly enjoyed brand-awareness. It was talked about and written about constantly.

The Best Comedy was “The Bear,” also a show that the TV Blog liked from the get-go. 

But it is hard to conjure up a vision of “Bear” fans gathering in someone’s home to wait with baited breath for the Best Comedy Emmy to be announced.

It is also true that the Emmys were held in January, which is unheard of in the history of the awards. 

They are usually held just before the onset of the fall season. It is possible that this timing had something to do with the show’s lowly ratings.

Indeed, the Emmys have done better in September. Perhaps they will again this fall.

2 comments about "Why The Tonys And Emmys Struggle For Ratings".
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  1. John Antil from University of Delaware, June 20, 2024 at 4:52 p.m.

    The main reason that no awards shows do well any more is rather simple:so few care about or even heard of what is being nominated. How many want to watch all the the second and third and forth tier awards? Not many at all. This  is the main problem and those that select the winners do not help by picking the ones that are the most "artistic" or most "inclusive" or the most "I do not care about this at all" selections.

      Maybe when some good TV shows and movies are created the awards shows will have more of an audiance but that would only be true of the popular shows were nominated (an unlikely event: the awards shows are dead!).

  2. Steve Beverly from Union Broadcasting System, June 20, 2024 at 6:09 p.m.

    Adam, I will also argue that awards shows have far too often been turned into platforms for political activism.  That is not what I invest my time in to see and why I haven't watched one since 1994.

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