How TV Viewership Numbers Have Held Up During the Pandemic’s Virtual Awards Shows and Events

Layla Ilchi
·4 min read

The coronavirus pandemic has introduced the era of the virtual awards show, and while some broadcasts have managed to hold onto their viewers, many have experienced large declines in viewership.

Awards shows like the Emmy Awards, American Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards and the Country Music Awards saw record lows in their viewership numbers amid the pandemic, with many seeing decreases of 30 to 50 percent. The Emmy Awards, which has set the precedent for the upcoming TV- and film-based awards shows, saw an all-time low of 6.3 million viewers for its September 2020 broadcast, despite enlisting host Jimmy Kimmel and bringing on a slew of celebrity presenters.

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Here, WWD looks at the viewership comparisons between 2019’s pre-pandemic awards ceremonies and large events and last year’s virtual shows, according to Nielsen numbers and the television networks. Read on for more.

BET Awards:

2019: 3.79 million viewers
2020: 3.7 million viewers

The BET Awards were one of the first to host a virtual ceremony amid the pandemic. The show was one of the few ceremonies that had roughly the same viewership numbers from the previous year, thanks in part to the awards show being simultaneously broadcast on BET and CBS.

The awards show brought together a lengthy list of stars, including Beyoncé, Chloe and Halle Bailey, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and more. The night was also a celebration of Black fashion designers, especially through host Amanda Seales, who worked with stylist Bryon Javar to wear 13 looks from the likes of Pyer Moss, Sergio Hudson, Brother Vellies, Romeo Hunte and more.

MTV Video Music Awards:

2019: 6.8 million viewers
2020: 6.4 million viewers

While the MTV Video Music Awards still managed to put on several impressive performances, its 2020 ceremony garnered 6.4 million viewers, a roughly six percent dip from the previous year.

One of the awards show’s most buzzed about performances was from Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, who teamed to perform their hit collaboration “Rain on Me,” which later won the award for song of the year, best collaboration and best cinematography. The night also included performances by Miley Cyrus, DaBaby, BTS, The Weeknd and Chloe x Halle.

Emmy Awards:

2019: 6.9 million viewers
2020: 6.3 million viewers

The first TV awards show to take place during the pandemic, the 2020 Emmy Awards saw a dip in viewership to its all-time low of 6.3 million viewers. The Emmys put on a hybrid in-person and virtual ceremony, with host Jimmy Kimmel and presenters appearing in person and winners accepting their awards remotely.

The night’s biggest moments included Zendaya becoming the youngest actress to win in the lead drama actress category, “Friends” cast members Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courtney Cox coming together for a mini reunion and comedy hit “Schitt’s Creek” winning seven awards.

Billboard Music Awards:

2019: 8 million viewers
2020: 3.6 million viewers

The Billboard Music Awards saw a massive decline in viewership in 2020, dropping 55 percent from the previous year to 3.6 million. Some of the night’s highlights included Post Malone winning eight awards, Lizzo winning the award for top song sales artist while wearing a Christian Siriano “vote” dress and hit K-pop group BTS performing their song, “Dynamite.”

Country Music Awards:

2019: 11.3 million viewers
2020: 7.1 million viewers

The Country Music Awards also saw its lowest viewership numbers in 2020, decreasing by over 30 percent from the previous year to 7.1 million viewers. The show was hosted by Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker and included performances by Chris Stapleton, Luke Combs, Morgan Wallen and Thomas Rhett.

American Music Awards:

2019: 6.7 million viewers
2020: 4.0 million viewers

The 2020 American Music Awards had its lowest viewership numbers ever, dropping roughly 40 percent from the previous year to four million viewers. Despite the low viewership numbers, the American Music Awards included performances by Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, The Weeknd, Jennifer Lopez, Megan Thee Stallion and others.

The Super Bowl:

2020: 101.3 million viewers
2021: 92 million viewers

Despite the event being held mainly in person, Super Bowl viewership dropped in 2021. Last year’s Super Bowl received a boost in viewership thanks to the highly anticipated halftime show performance by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, which many have viewed as one of the most memorable halftime show performances of all time.

The Weeknd followed Lopez and Shakira in 2021 as the halftime show headliner, putting on a socially distanced performance on a smaller scale than what is typical for halftime-show performances. The Weeknd stuck to his classic style for the performance, wearing a crystal-embellished Givenchy red suit jacket and black trousers.

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