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Awards Shows Steal Viewers From Cable News Outlets

11 Feb, 2009 By: Steven Chester Response This Week

The film, television and music academies, societies and guilds convene every January and February to tell viewers and listeners what the best of the best was in each group for the previous year. Viewers get to see the winners during elaborate telecasts known as award shows. These award shows often feature a high-profile host, musical numbers to keep your attention and a plethora of big names from the industry.

Mid-January brings the Golden Globes, starting a string of what seems like weekly awards shows. This is followed by the telecasts for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, the Grammys and the Academy Awards. The networks that televise these events often see viewership increases even if it is just for the duration of the show. Where do these viewers come from, and what are they tuning away from is the question?

Aside from award pre-shows, it seems that almost every year viewers come from – or at least leave – the cable news networks. Looking at the previous three years of award show ratings and timeslots, there is a trend that is quite evident – people who typically watch CNN, Fox News, Headline News and MSNBC tend to tune into the award shows.

The first show of each award season is the Golden Globes, voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press. This telecast is often lauded as the most fun and most viewer-friendly awards show. This year’s Golden Globes were held January 11, and honored indie darling “Slumdog Millionaire” the winner of best picture in the drama category. During the presentation, cable news networks saw an average drop in viewership of more than 23 percent from the previous Sunday and the week leading into the show. Headline News lost 40 percent of its viewers compared to the week prior to the ceremony.

Typically, the SAG awards are held on the final Sunday of January. The twist for this event is that only actors are honored, and their peers vote on the winners. This show is also the only major awards ceremony not broadcast on network television. It has been broadcast live on TNT for the past 10 years, and is now simulcast on TBS.

TNT often sees great ratings boosts on the day they televise the SAG awards, adding 45-75 percent to its normal viewership. Again, however, the cable news networks saw large decreases during the SAG awards telecast. The cable news networks saw an average drop of one-third of their total viewers during this year’s show, while CNN lost an astonishing 50 percent of its viewers on the night of the broadcast. While these viewers did not necessarily watch the SAG awards, the trend is undeniable.

Next up on the award parade is the Grammy Awards telecast, honoring the best in music. Just like the award shows that feature actors, cable news networks take a major hit when the Grammys are televised each year. The only network that does not follow this trend is MSNBC. IN recent years, MSNBC actually has actually seen a large ratings boost every Grammy evening – upwards of 60 percent in some years. Beyond MSNBC, other cable news networks fall back victim to the trend. CNN saw a 20-percent drop the night of the 2008 Grammys, while Fox News suffered a 26-percent loss in 2007. Discounting MSNBC, the cable news category saw a 12-percent drop in 2008 and an 18-percent loss in 2007. Statistics from this past Sunday night’s Grammy Awards are not yet available.

The final major event of award season, and arguably the most important, is the Academy Awards. Just like the other shows that honor screen actors, the Oscars hammer cable news viewership. Last year, when “No Country for Old Men” took home best picture, the cable news category saw a 21-percent decline in viewership. CNN lost 44 percent of its average audience from the previous Sunday and week, and Fox News lost 31 percent. The previous year didn’t hurt quite as bad, but the category still lost 18 percent of its typical viewers on Oscar Night 2007.

Even if correlation does not show causation, it would be pretty tough to say that these award shows do not affect other programming. The cable news category sees a significant dip in viewership on nights of these specific award shows. When looking at a source and destination report on these nights, you can see that while not 100 percent of the defectors go to the awards broadcasts, significant numbers do in fact tune into the awards.

The bottom line is that even if every viewer is not leaving cable news to watch the awards shows, the viewers do in fact leave cable news on these evenings.

Steven Chester is a media analyst at Lockard & Wechsler Direct in Irvington, N.Y. He can be reached at

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