Why This Year’s Emmys Ratings May Not Decline as Much as You’d Think

But 72nd annual Emmy Awards are still likely to set record lows on ABC

ABC/Jeff Lipsky

tony maglio ratings report banner Jimmy Kimmel can do a lot of things, but when it comes to savings the virtual Emmys from record ratings lows, even he can only do so much. The 72nd annual Emmy Awards, also known as the first (and hopefully not annual) virtual Emmy Awards, air Sunday on ABC. By Monday, we’ll likely have new record-low TV ratings for the Emmys — though the Nielsen numbers may not drop as much as you would think. Last year, Fox’s turn with the Emmys drew 6.9 million total viewers, which was down 32% from 2018 (10.2 million total viewers) to a new record low. Those 2019 Emmys, which were host-less and also on a Sunday, declined 33% in ratings among adults 18-49, falling from a 2.4 to a 1.6. And that’s with an excellent lead-in, airing after most of the country had access to watch the New York Giants come from behind to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in dramatic fashion. Those are some whoppers of declines. While the lack of an in-person, traditional ceremony this year could very well drop the 2020 Emmys to even lower Nielsen numbers, the drops may not be as bad as what they were in 2019. After all, Kimmel is an upgrade over nobody, and in terms of general conventional viewership, the more-established ABC is an upgrade over Fox. But ABC, which does not wade in NFL waters (outside of its association with sister channel ESPN, which carries “Monday Night Football”), will not have as good a lead-in on Sunday. The tradition of airing the Emmys on the first Sunday of the Nielsen TV season will continue this year at least in part to give ESPN a clear runway for Monday’s New Orleans Saints vs. Las Vegas Raiders game. (That tradition gets bucked when NBC’s crack at the Emmys rolls around. The 2018 Emmys aired on a Monday on NBC, which the network does to make way for the higher-rated — and more expensive — “Sunday Night Football.”) All of that is not to say this Sunday’s Emmys will have a bad lead-in. ABC will air an original “Celebrity Family Feud” episode ahead of the TV awards. The episode will feature an “Everybody Loves Raymond” grudge match, Ray Romano vs. Brad Garrett, as well as a second game between bands Fallout Boy and Weezer. This year the Emmy Awards on ABC will directly face off with the New England Patriots vs. the Seattle Seahawks. That contest has the potential to be a very good one — even without Tom Brady. Kickoff is set for 8:20 p.m. ET/5:20 p.m. PT, which means the Emmys will have a 20-minute head start on the pro pigskin. Early tune-in for TV’s biggest night has the best possibility to actually grow from 2019’s ratings, as the curiosity factor mixed with the existence of a monologue provides one of the 2020 Emmy’s only real opportunities for improvement. As for the TV series nominated for Emmys this year, those are not an upgrade. Last year’s Emmy Awards had the final season of “Game of Thrones” going for one last trophy run. This year we’ve got Season 2 of “Succession” — a great show, no doubt, but Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong and Sarah Snook aren’t exactly Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage to the public at large. “Star Wars” series “The Mandalorian,” nominated for Best Drama, could help keep some viewers around for Sunday night’s final category. But Baby Yoda won’t have much of a presence over the first two hours, 55 minutes — the Disney+ show’s nods came mostly on the Creative Arts Emmys’ side. Back here on Earth, mainstream stars Jennifer Aniston and Zendaya will be on camera as nominees, but their recognizable faces on a webcam can only do so much. On the comedy side, “Fleabag” (which didn’t air a new season) making way for the final season of new front-runner “Schitt’s Creek” is a lateral move. Both are great sitcoms, but they’re still pretty niche in terms of awareness.
Also not working towards the 2020 Emmys is how other virtual awards shows have performed amid the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve pretty much all hit new record lows. Take, for example, the 2020 ESPYS. And the 2020 ACM Awards. And the 2020 VMAs. We could go on, or you could just take our word for it. Truth be told, the way TV viewership and audience fragmentation is going in the “Peak TV” era, they all might have hit new lows in a non-COVID world anyway. So good luck, Jimmy, and good luck, ABC. If it helps, WE’LL be watching — but also that’s our job and we’re not Nielsen panelists.


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