For the second year in a row, the Primetime Emmy Awards broke an all-time record low for viewership.
Nielsen data stated that the Primetime Emmys, which aired at 8 p.m. ET on ABC on Sunday, garnered 6.1 million total viewers. That’s a sharp drop from the 2019 Emmys’ 6.9 million viewers on Fox. The 2020 Primetime Emmys’ viewership was the lowest since the event began tracking viewership data in 1990.
The 2020 Emmys have been Hollywood’s largest awards show since the coronavirus pandemic began impacting daily life in the United States. There’s no indication that the pandemic directly depressed viewership numbers, but the coronavirus had an indirect impact on the Emmys via network TV’s Sunday sports programming. Competing Sunday evening programming included Sunday Night Football and an NBA game featuring the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets; NFL programming on several networks was significantly higher than viewership for the Emmys.
In prior years, the Primetime Emmys has faced fierce competition for viewers with networks that were airing live sports games. In 2020, when most sporting events have been on hold for the last few months due to the pandemic, interest in their return has especially high, which likely cut into the Emmys’ viewership even more than usual.
While the 2020 Primetime Emmys received positive reviews from critics, including IndieWire’s Ben Travers, the show’s unusual format could’ve turned some viewers away from the festivities. Chief among the 2020 show’s changes were its lack of a red carpet; an understandable loss, given the virtual format, but red carpets are a significant viewership draw.
One issue that the Emmys has faced for several years — and will continue to face after the pandemic ends — is the continued fracturing of television viewership. Streaming television is becoming increasingly popular and aside from HBO, many of the Emmys’ most-nominated titles hailed from Netflix and other streaming services. Few network shows, with their big ratings and mainstream audience familiarity, were nominated for awards. Streaming service subscribers may not have been able to watch the Emmys, while viewers who primarily watch network TV might’ve been unfamiliar with many of the Emmy-nominated shows.
Although the 2020 Primetime Emmys saw record-low viewership numbers, it is not the only award show to do so this year. Award show viewership has been on the decline for years and the 2020 Golden Globes hit an eight-year viewership low, while the viewership for the most recent Oscars was the worst in the event’s history.