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Emmy Central: ABC Telecast Fails to Draw Big Numbers

Sep 27, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Ratings for this year’s Emmy Awards show dropped like a heavy statuette.

ABC’s “56th Annual Emmy Awards” hit the second-lowest audience numbers ever with 13.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, down 23 percent versus the year before, when the show aired on Fox.

Dropping further were the show’s numbers among adults 18 to 49, which sank 35 percent versus a year ago to a 4.6 rating. A big chunk of that decline came from a defection of younger viewers: Adults 18 to 34 sank 48 percent; viewers 12 to 34 dropped 49 percent; and teens 12 to 17 declined 63 percent.

Younger television viewers were driven away from the telecast as shows that appeal largely to older viewers earned Emmys, analysts said. In addition, the Emmys show itself was geared toward older viewers, according to analysts.

“Maybe this speaks to the medium itself-how it’s driven away younger viewers,” said Shari Anne Brill, VP and director of programming services for Carat North America.

ABC’s prime-time schedule has had a rough go of it the past several years. “Sunday is not a great night for ABC to be begin with,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate media director for Horizon Media, New York. “They don’t do huge numbers.”

But analysts and even some ABC executives were shocked by the low ratings considering the competition that night. CBS won the evening with a high-rated NFL game overrun and an original “60 Minutes” episode. But after that the network was in lower-rated rerun programming: “Cold Case,” “CSI: Miami” and “Without a Trace.”

An ABC spokesman declined to comment about the show’s performance. A spokeswoman for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences could not be reached for comment.

This year’s Emmys show earned a 9.4 household rating-a 20 percent drop-off from the Fox broadcast of a year ago. Fox is a younger-skewing network than ABC, which couldn’t keep those viewers this year, said one media agency analyst.

Blame also goes to a plethora of Emmy-winning HBO shows that aren’t familiar to many TV viewers. HBO can be seen only in one-third of U.S. television households. Others blame the selection of Emmys host Garry Shandling, who has been out of the public limelight for some time and may not register with younger audiences. “Garry Shandling is a good guy. But he is kind of passe. He isn’t a young host,” said one TV media agency executive.

For the past several years, with “Friends” and “Frasier,” broadcast networks at least had the glitter of high-profile sitcoms, programming executives said. But now that is changing as well. The big sitcom winner this year was “Arrested Development,” the quirky, low-rated Fox show.

Too much exposure is another consideration. “You see these actors everywhere,” said Carat’s Ms. Brill. “It’s not that special.”

The Emmy Awards show moves from network to network every year, and analysts said there is little marketing momentum that can be built from show to show. This is unlike most other awards programs, including the Academy Awards, which have been exclusively on ABC for decades.

There are no ratings guarantees for advertisers in the Emmys show. Still, some advertisers had estimated a 6 rating in adults 18 to 49, down from Fox’s 7.1 a year ago. With the show only pulling in a 4.6 in the demo, those advertisers’ media plans suffered.

Like all awards shows, the Emmys have been subject to competition from a number of new awards shows, including younger-skewing efforts such as MTV’s “Video Music Awards,” which airs in late August.

“It used to be just the Emmys, the Academy Awards and the Grammys,” said Doug Seay, senior VP and director of national broadcast for Publicis & Hal Riney, New York. “The category is not that special anymore.”

“Emmys” ratings have steadily slipped during the past 10 years. But those viewer decreases have generally been gradual drops of 6 percent to 12 percent per year. From 1993 through 1998, the show averaged a Nielsen Media Research 13.6 household rating. During the past five years, it fell to a 12.5 rating. That figure includes 2001, when the broadcast was delayed twice because of events surrounding the 9/11 attacks.