iHeart’s John Sykes Points to a “Huge Drop In Audience” for Virtual Awards Shows — But Can In-Person Crowds Save This Format?

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With other awards shows having suffered record-low viewership amid a pandemic-prompted pivot to virtual, the iHeartRadio Music Awards will feature an in-person crowd – a move that iHeartMedia’s John Sykes believes could improve ratings.

Most every awards show sustained a double-digit viewership hit in 2020, including a 55 percent year-over-year audience falloff for the Billboard Music Awards (which garnered 3.6 million watchers on NBC; the 2021 edition is set for Sunday, May 23rd) and a 43 percent dip to total watchers for November’s American Music Awards (which attracted 3.8 million fans on ABC).

Furthermore, the Grammys touched a 12-year ratings low on CBS in pre-COVID January of 2020, before slipping another 53 percent, audience-wise, and 61 percent in the 18-49 demographic in 2021. The latter happening boasted performances from high-profile acts including BTS, Cardi B, Taylor Swift, and Billie Eilish, among several others, but lacked an in-person crowd.

The 2020 Country Music Association Awards also reached an all-time ratings low, with 7.08 million viewers and a 1.1 rating, and the interest falloff hasn’t been limited to the music industry. To be sure, the Oscars secured 23.64 million viewers in 2020 and 10.4 million viewers in 2021, against a record low of 6.1 million watchers for September of 2020’s Emmys and 6.9 million watchers for the 2021 Golden Globes – a 64 percent YoY decline.

Bearing these facts in mind, iHeartMedia president of entertainment enterprises John Sykes, in an interview with Variety, acknowledged the “huge drop in audience” that awards shows experienced after they went virtual. Moreover, the 65-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation chairman expressed the belief that the presence of a physical crowd at the May 27th event will bolster ratings.

“We were well aware of the under-performance of these virtual awards shows,” said the MTV co-founder. “They were experiencing a huge drop in audience, which made it clear to us that people come to these shows to connect with the event nature, to see the larger-than-life moments that just couldn’t be duplicated by virtual performances in a small room.

“It worked early on with the living room concerts and other moments and will live on, I believe, beyond the pandemic for certain shows. But for these award shows, you really want an escape from your everyday world,” finished the Schenectady, New York, native.

Sykes also mentioned that the iHeartRadio Awards will only admit individuals who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 – with an emphasis on healthcare professionals and first responders, he specified – and that iHeartMedia will test all guests for the bug prior to entry.

Plus, the former VH1 president appeared to take a shot at the Recording Academy over the Grammys’ voting controversy, stating that when it comes to the iHeartRadio Awards, “there’s no backroom committee making choices that make no sense to the fans.”

The iHeartRadio Music Awards are scheduled for Thursday, May 27th, once again, and it’ll be interesting to see whether a physical crowd aids the happening’s atmosphere – potentially drawing more viewers (and saving the awards-show format) in the process.

9 Responses

  1. Nicky Knight

    These award shows don’t mean anything anymore.. The public has so much choice and everything is largely niche.

    The award shows are seen by many as
    industry elite self congratulatory events to gloat in their spoils..

    Most people couldn’t even tell you what songs are in the top 10 anymore as the chart is pretty well redundant.. and the iTunes download chart is especially redundant now, I’m saddened to say.

  2. Maynard G Krebs

    John Sykes is stuck in the seventies!

    • Randy

      Not really. Sykes is very active in current live music. Look him up and learn something before making an ignorant comment…again.

  3. Burt

    I, for one, cannot wait until crowds return to awards show so the narcissistic presenters and recipients can preach socialism before they hop onto their private jets for a Mediterranean yacht vacation.

    Celebrities are so sincere and educated I just want to jump back and kiss myself.

    • Real Burt

      If you do kiss yourself, you’ll get herpes…again.

  4. BAC

    I had to look up who and what won Grammys this year.

    A lot of awards went to dead guys (Chick Corea, John Prine), or people near the end of their lives (blues guitarist Bobby Rush, Vince Gill, Cardi B)

    Why don’t we just call it the Obituaries and be done with it?

    • Francisco B

      So, the winners couldn’t have won on the merit of their music? You’re a mess.

      • Award Shows Are Not About Merit

        You mean like Milli Vanilli?

        • Francisco B

          Way to not answer my question and answer with something stupid. So, you’re equating Chick Corea and his mastery of music to Milli Vanilli? Get real, chump.