NEW YORK - The Emmy Awards plunged to a record-low viewership of 6.9 million, illustrating a collective shrug by the public for an annual program that celebrates the best of television and is designed to build excitement for a new season.
The Nielsen company said the audience for Fox's host-less show on Sunday was down 32% from 2018, which was previously the smallest ever. It's the first time the Emmy audience has slipped below 10 million people.
Competition from an NFL game between the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns was blamed for siphoning off some viewers. More likely, it was because of how television has changed and is less and less of a communal experience.
“The Emmys used to matter because it was all the TV you watched, pitted against each other,” tweeted Myles McNutt, a cultural critic and professor at Old Dominion University. “But now, the Emmys are more likely a place where shows regular people had no idea existed compete with shows they have a vague understanding of.”
Television's most popular scripted show, CBS' now-retired “The Big Bang Theory,” wasn't nominated for best comedy. Amazon's “Fleabag” won that Emmy. It's not clear how many people have even seen the streamed series.
Of the 132 Emmy Awards handed out this year, only 18 went for work on broadcast networks. Except for two awards for NBC's “Saturday Night Live,” broadcast programs were shut out of Sunday's telecast.
It wasn't that long ago, back in 2013, that 17.8 million people watched the Emmy Awards, Nielsen said. The largest Emmy audience in Nielsen's record book was the 35.8 million people who watched in 1986.
For people who want to follow the awards casually while watching something else, news about winners spreads quickly on social media, further diminishing the incentive to tune in. HBO's “Game of Thrones” was the biggest winner with 12 Emmys this year, while the HBO limited series “Chornobyl” won 10.
The awards are shown in late September primarily to generate excitement for the broadcast networks' new season, which begins this week. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox rotate as the host network.
It's easy to envision a time when those networks lose interest in the Emmys, given how members of the television academy overlook them. But the broadcast schedule won't change soon, since the rotation is locked in through 2026.