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ABC’s Emmy Ratings Plummet As Netflix And HBO Dominate

Jimmy Kimmel and many other well-meaning celebrities did their best to create an entertaining Emmy Awards last night on ABC, in the face of continued pandemic-induced social distancing.

Weighing in at just over 3 hours, the ceremony (which technically was hosted at the Los Angeles Staples Center Arena but produced virtually with nominees attending at home by Zoom), plunged 29% off of last year’s ratings, which themselves were off 32% from the year before (when they aired on a different broadcast network, FOX.)

There are scores of reasons behind the dramatic fall-off in audience, among them being that the we were all warned ahead of time that this would be a “2020 Emmy Awards” — meaning, of course, that due to the virus, none of the stars were attending a red carpet ceremony, and thus wouldn’t be awkwardly sitting side by side, nervously pretending to be fine about whether or not they walk away with the gold.

That nervous, shared energy in the Dolby Theater at Hollywood and Highland Avenues is what can make for great TV.

It’s just not the same over Zoom, with everyone separate from each other and supportive family members screaming for joy, as they share tuna casserole in the other room.

It’s reasonable to also assume that viewers have bigger things on their mind than watching TV award…TV: the pandemic, the untimely death of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, social unrest, the economy, the wildfires, the hurricanes, the coming presidential election and let’s not forget – The NBA finals (go Lakers!)

So maybe people just didn’t care.

The most likely reason for the historically low ratings is, that as some TV-obsessed souls tuned in (like myself) to watch “TV’s biggest night”, they were instead greeted with something much more nuanced: subscription TV’s biggest night.

Literally, as the show unfolded, it became abundantly clear that unless you are a big fan of Schitt’$ Creek (seen on Netflix NFLX , and formerly Pop TV), Watchmen or Succession (both found on HBO), you likely wouldn’t be familiar with any of the winners, or for that matter, many of the nominees.

Schitt’$ Creek not only won the first seven awards, across all seven comedy categories (making Emmy history) – – including best comedy series – – it completely dominated more than the first hour of the three hour event.

Don’t watch Netflix? Don’t know Schitt’$ Creek?

Maybe these Emmys aren’t for you.

Over the course of the show, the suits at ABC must have wondered aloud, “Why are we producing and airing a ceremony about TV seen on platforms that are likely to spell our demise?”

Objectively, the Emmys still performed better than ABC’s usual dreary Sunday night lineup, so on a strict advertising dollars assessment, I’m sure many at the network were pleased to have the special on the air.

Having the Emmys run for three hours on a Sunday night, also serves to promote future ABC shows in commercial pods that people likely actually saw, since it’s rare that folks ever watch any live TV these days, especially commercials, unless it’s a sporting event (by the way, the “program” that easily won the night was Sunday Night Football, on NBC.)

I’m not a TV historian, but if memory serves, this is the first time ever that the broadcast networks were shut out completely, meaning literally winning not a single award, over the course of the entire prime time ceremony (there are other “Creative Arts” Emmy ceremonies that aren’t broadcast in prime time, that celebrate scores of other TV categories, and in them, network TV actually managed to win a meager few, especially Maya Rudolph who earned an historic two Emmy wins – – one for the animated show, Big Mouth; the other for a guest role in The Good Place.)

In other words, Maya Rudolph actually won more Emmy awards than some other networks did, combined.

When the Emmy nominations were first announced, I wrote that the networks should take a long, hard look at what they’re doing exactly, by annually producing and airing the Emmys.

Television excellence and the artists that create it deserve recognition, respect and admiration.  

The Emmys stand for that and should indeed be given out in a public forum.

In recent years, since the explosion of TV’s Second Golden Age, usually attributed to the arrival of The Sopranos on HBO, “excellence” as defined by the Television Academy’s nominations, is found overwhelmingly on subscription TV services like premium cable or digital streaming.

Network television, otherwise known as “broadcast TV”, is designed to conform to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rules, which strictly limit offensive language, sexual situations, nudity and graphic violence.

“Excellent Television” generally traffics in exactly that: offensive language, sexual situations, nudity and graphic violence.

So why are the Emmys, a show now established as a celebration of subscription TV, still being produced and still airing on network TV?

The ratings are lousy and the shows that compete are a far cry from anything anyone would ever see or experience on ABC or the other networks that air the ceremony (ABC, CBS VIAC , NBC and FOX rotate the honors between them, annually.)

A reckoning seems to be on the horizon, as we wait and see when broadcast TV finally and permanently decides that they’re out of the quality scripted business, and simply in the sports, reality TV and news businesses.

Leave the Emmys, and therefore TV excellence, to the people who actually make TV excellence – – premium cable and subscription streaming.

HBO, how about you take the honors and air the Emmys, next year? Maybe you can rotate it with Netflix, Amazon AMZN , Showtime and Hulu?

Oh yeah, Disney+ did get a lot of Emmy love with The Mandalorian. Maybe Disney+ should do it – – better than your sister channel, ABC, presiding over something that’s completely disconnected from their business, and more importantly, their audience.

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