Why Live Award Shows Have High Value, Even When We Hate Them

Originally published on January 12, 2014 6:50 pm

Award shows are a booming business these days. Ratings have been climbing year by year, and networks are definitely paying attention — and packing their schedules to the brim.

There are at least 19 televised award shows airing between the start of the year and the broadcast of the Academy Awards on March 2.

"Networks love it because it's one of the few 'DVR-proof' programs out there," Matt Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter, tells NPR's Arun Rath. "That's the buzzword in television right now — anything you put on that might be DVR-proof is going to be extra high value."

Belloni says the notion of live-event television has become even more important when you factor in social media.

"There are very few places in this splintered media universe where you can turn on your TV, watch something live, have something to talk about and then go on and start talking with people online," Belloni says.

A recent example Belloni points out is NBC's The Sound of Music Live! Though the production was widely slammed by reviewers, 18.5 million viewers tuned in.

"There were a lot of people being very mean and snarky on Twitter and Facebook during that show," Belloni says. "But according to NBC, they're like, 'Who cares ... say as many mean things as you want, as long as you're paying attention.'

"I think that a lot of people are looking at what Sound of Music did, and they're saying, what's the equivalent there?"

And more live-event-style broadcasts are being born. Since 2011, Hallmark Channel has broadcast the Hero Dog Awards. Major networks are bringing in new televised awards and revitalizing old ones. In May, NBC will relaunch the American Comedy Awards, which ran on ABC from 1987-2001.

Another way networks are capitalizing on these award shows is by producing surrounding programming to generate even more buzz. Instead of a simple press conference to announce Grammy nominations, CBS broadcast The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!!

Still, sports rule the world of live television, with Sunday night football standing as the No. 1 rated show. Belloni says award shows capitalize on a demographic that sports may leave out.

"Award show appeal toward a more female demographic," Belloni says. "There's a reason why the Oscars are referred to as the Super Bowl for women."

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

The Golden Globes are taking place tonight. If you're feeling like television is infested with award shows these days, well, you're right. Networks have been noticing that ratings for most of these shows have been climbing year by year. So they're cramming all the award shows they can into their schedules, coming up with new awards and reviving some dead ones.

Matt Belloni is the executive editor for The Hollywood Reporter. And he says award shows hit a sweet spot that's rare in programming today.

MATT BELLONI: Well, I think there's two things at work here. For one, the notion of live event television has become even more important when you factor in social media. People like to talk about things that they're watching. And there are very few places in this splintered media universe where you can turn on your TV, watch something live, have something to talk about, and then go on and start talking with people online.

Networks love it because, you know, it's one of the few DVR-proof programs out there. That's the buzzword in television right now - anything that you can put on that might DVR-proof is going to be extra high value. I mean, you saw that a little bit with NBC getting a big rating for The Sound of Music Live! special that they did.

RATH: Right.

BELLONI: And there were a lot of people being very mean and snarky on Twitter and Facebook during that show. But according to NBC, they're like, who cares?

RATH: They're watching.

BELLONI: You're watching. You know, say as many mean things as you want as long as you're paying attention.

RATH: And the only thing I can think of that's like that would be sports maybe.

BELLONI: Yeah. Sports is the mother ship. Sports is what's really driving everything. The number one rated show is Sunday Night Football. So sports appeal to a particular demographic, though, and award shows appeal to a more female demographic.

RATH: Interesting. So that's getting the other half of the audience that way?

BELLONI: Yeah. I mean, there's a reason why the Oscars are referred to as the Super Bowl for women.

RATH: So in terms of the numbers, obviously, the networks wouldn't be doing this, you know, for all the reason we talked about if they weren't having the audience going to it. What are the audience numbers like?

BELLONI: Well, you saw the Oscars got up to 40 million total viewers. The Globes are about 28, 29, 30 million, if they're doing well. The ratings for the Billboard Music Awards were up. But keep in mind, those are the A-list award shows. You know, it goes downhill from there to where, you know, between 7 and 15 million will be a very good number for a lot of these shows.

RATH: Well, let's go down that hill. How ridiculous do these shows get?

BELLONI: Well, what you're seeing now is everything from NBC launching a comedy awards to - there's going to be a dog award show on the Hallmark Channel. You know, the SAG Awards now air on TNT and TBS. There's something like 19 award shows between January 1 and the Oscars. I mean, that's a pretty incredible number of award shows in one, you know, two, two-and-a-half-month stretch.

RATH: And the award shows have spinoffs now too.

BELLONI: Yeah. I mean, one way networks are capitalizing on these award shows is they're creating surrounding programming. For instance, the Grammies, instead of just announcing their nominations at a press conference, they do a special on CBS where they get some performers together and they create programming out of the nominations. It's a way to bring in more viewers that want to see stuff associated with the Grammies brand.

RATH: You mentioned that "Sound of Music" live broadcast. Are there any other kind of areas of live entertainment that might be mined aside from sports and award shows?

BELLONI: Well, I think that that's the exact conversation that's going on at networks. So if you have ideas, you should pitch them. I think that, you know, a lot of people are looking at what "Sound of Music" did, and they're saying, OK, what's the equivalent there? What's the stunt? I mean, there's, you know, live magic shows. There's a lot of different "Saturday Night Live"-style variety shows that are in development. They're trying to get into that to create more of the live events-style broadcasts.

RATH: Matt Belloni is the executive editor for The Hollywood Reporter. Matt, thanks for your time.

BELLONI: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.