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Emmy Ratings Improve From 2020’s All-Time Low — and Top 2019 Viewership, Too

The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards wasn't a massive ratings success, but it showed a marked improvement over the last two ceremonies.

Cedric The Entertainer, Rita Wilson, and LL Cool J appear at the 73RD EMMY AWARDS, broadcast Sunday, Sept. 19 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/5:00-8:00 PM, live PT) on the CBS Television Network and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. -- Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS ©2021 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Dave Burd, Cedric The Entertainer, Rita Wilson, and LL Cool J at the 2021 Emmys

Cliff Lipson / CBS

The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Show did not make history last night — and for once, that’s a good thing.

Nielsen’s preliminary viewership statistics for the show stated that the Emmys were watched by an audience of 7.4 million, an increase from the 2020 show’s all-time low of 6.3 million viewers as well as 2019’s 6.9 million viewers. Viewership for the entertainment industry’s various award shows has been on the decline for years and the Primetime Emmys’ 2019 and 2020 installments were the lowest-rated Emmy ceremonies since the event began tracking viewership data in 1990. Though viewership for the 2021 event, which aired Sunday on CBS, was not particularly impressive compared to older ceremonies — it was still the third lowest-rated event since 1990 — the trend of ever-worsening viewership for the biggest night in television has been at least temporarily halted.

Also of note: Viewership for the telecast was likely higher than Nielsen’s early reports. The company does not factor streaming into its tally and Sunday’s show was also available on the Paramount+ streaming service. The viewership numbers are predicted to increase when Nielsen releases its final ratings on Tuesday.

A “return to normalcy” was likely a contributing factor to the CBS show’s slight uptick in viewership. The 2021 Primetime Emmy Awards were held in-person in an indoor venue (despite organizers’ pledges to host the event outdoors and abide by social distancing guidelines) and resembled a traditional awards show, including a red carpet; this was a stark contrast to the 2020 Emmys, which were mostly held virtually, and most other Hollywood award shows that have been held throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Several hundred individuals rounded out the star-studded guest list, and Sunday’s event provided an opportunity for television fans to see their favorite talents mingle in-person for the first time in well over a year.

Television has served as a respite for large swaths of Americans throughout the coronavirus pandemic and plenty of acclaimed and high-profile shows premiered throughout the last year. Both of these points also likely helped drive viewership to CBS during the Emmy Awards. Major titles that appeal to different audiences were nominated for awards, ranging from new comedies like “Ted Lasso” and “Hacks” to long-running and consistently acclaimed dramas such as “The Crown” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” This was Conan O’Brien’s final year to be nominated for his long-running “Conan” talk show (and he made the most of it), as well as an opportunity to see how Disney’s “WandaVision” and “The Mandalorian” would stack up with television’s heavyweights (though they did not make the most of it).

Viewership for CBS’ awards show was likely helped by a lead-in from an NFL game between the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks that went into overtime. That said, Emmy Awards also faced sporting competition; NBC’s Sunday Night Football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens aired during the awards show, as did Sunday Night Baseball, the PBS documentary series “Muhammad Ali,” and more original programming.

Paramount+ subscribers can watch the Emmys on-demand, as well.

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