Grammys can celebrate hitting flat ratings note

Posted at 4:02 PM, Feb 11, 2019

The Grammy Awards were hardly perfect, but they offered their share of satisfying moments and buzzworthy miscues, as well as an eclectic mix of performers and winners. So a collective sigh of relief is surely emanating from the award-show industrial complex, after the show's ratings were basically flat compared to last year.

The Grammys averaged 19.9 million viewers, per Nielsen data, which actually represents a slight uptick compared to last year. The audience among adults age 18-49 -- the key demographic on which ad sales are based -- did slip about 7% below year-ago levels, to an all-time low.

By contrast, viewing of the Grammys dropped precipitously in 2018, in what turned out to be a harbinger for the Oscars, which took a similar dive, each falling by more than 20%.

Since then, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (which presents the Oscars) and ABC have experienced a semi-public panic attack over how to arrest that decline, resulting in the mystery leading up to this year's host-free telecast.

The Recording Academy has faced similar pressures, if not quite as ostentatiously, before delivering a mostly entertaining show -- with an expanded list of nominees in key categories -- emceed by Alicia Keys , after two years of CBS latenight host James Corden.

Notably, some of the proposed "fixes" for Oscar ratings didn't seem to be a major issue for the Grammys. For starters, ABC has been eager to trim the broadcast's length, holding it close to three hours. The Grammys ran several minutes past their allotted 3 ½-hour window, despite abruptly cutting Drake's acceptance speech short and playing off some of the more long-winded winners.

CBS did cite some other encouraging metrics, including the Grammys' status as the "most social" awards telecast this season, and a significant increase on digital platforms. Overall, more than 40 million viewers watched at least part of the broadcast.

On the down side, the continued slide among younger adults is surely a concerning trend, if part of a larger challenge facing broadcasting in general as TV consumption habits change.

The Oscars, of course, cap a dizzying run of award shows -- many of them televised -- that drag out over more than two months. Given that saturation and the sometimes-repetitive nature of these affairs -- such as Lady Gaga singing "Shallow" on Sunday, and due to reprise that in two weeks on the Oscars -- the top ceremonies seem to be fighting an ongoing battle to resist the pull of gravity.

Still, Sunday's Grammy results -- paired with relatively flat numbers f or the Golden Globes in January -- provide some hope that audience tune-in could be flattening out, or at least settling around a new normal. The hope also lingers that having more popular nominees in the best-picture mix -- including "Black Panther," "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "A Star is Born" -- will boost interest, and thus viewership.

That might not be enough to make Oscar organizers sleep easy, but in the current awards climate, just holding serve ratings-wise, as the Grammys did, is beginning to look like a victory.