The New Awards Show

August 31, 2016

I’ve always been a fan of awards shows. There’s fashion. There’s fame. There’s Kimye. What’s not to love?

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But as I watched last Sunday’s Video Music Awards on MTV — or rather, as I streamed it on my laptop — something felt … different.

This year’s VMAs were broadcast to a record low 3.3 million viewers. While there were likely a number of factors at play here — namely that most young people don’t seem to know what a TV is anymore — I’d like to argue that much of this year’s show offered a peek into what’s to come in the future of television programming.

Here are a few takeaways:

While TV ratings were at an all time low, streaming soared. According to Billboard:

“There were 149 million streams of VMA content online Sunday and Monday, a combination of live streaming through MTV’s website and aggressive packaging of video clips on venues like Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like. The majority of streams (86 million) came Monday, after people heard or read about the show and wanted to check out clips, MTV said. The comparable number of streams for 2015 was 30.7 million, MTV said.”

That’s a 385 percent increase!

“On Facebook, which has become more aggressive promoting video in the past year, there were 45.8 million streams of VMA material on Sunday, compared to 4.4 million in 2015, MTV said”

The above clearly spells out what everyone already knew: Streaming is the future. With ad blockers now readily available, advertisers are going to have to (very quickly) figure out new and compelling ways to get young people to pay attention to what they have to say online.

It’s also worth mentioning that content today lives on far beyond the awards show itself. According to the above statistics, more than half of the VMAs’ online streams came the day after the show. Which brings me to my next point:

It’s less about the show, and more about the moments: The VMAs have always been edgy, but this year, everything we’ve come to know about awards shows was thrown on its head. There was no host, but instead cameras cut to comedians Key and Peele throughout the night, who delivered a number of what I’m assuming MTV wanted to be shareable satires on the state of the internet today. I found the whole thing quite puzzling, but I think I’m just too old and uncool to get it.

But getting rid of the host wasn’t the only diversion from your basic awards show playbook.

Give the people what they want: What do kids these days want?

Beyoncé and Rihanna!

Instead of letting every up-and-coming performer have a piece of this year’s VMA stage, MTV decided to let two of today’s most compelling artists take up a whole lot of screen time. Rihanna gave four performances throughout the night, while also accepting the Vanguard Award from a very smitten Drake. Beyoncé, who showed up with the cutest date of all time, played basically half of her Lemonade album to an adoring audience. And you know what? I ain’t sorry.

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Play up current events. But some of the biggest names in pop culture right now aren’t even singers: they’re athletes. From Michael Phelps’ music choices to Simone Biles’ very PR-able love affair with Zac Efron, the Rio 2016 games gave us a whole new crop of names to obsess over. When the women’s gymnastics team took over the red carpet, my social channels were flooded with VMAs buzz. They even let Michael Phelps introduce Future, which just happened to inspire a flood of articles about his much talked about Olympics meme. I see you, MTV. Well played.

Reflect your audience: This may have less to do with MTV and more to do with the music industry as a whole, but at a time when many high-profile awards shows end up being very white, the VMAs truly embraced the diversity that young people have come to expect from their online content. Millennials are the most diverse generation in American history, and the VMAs recognized that. Not only were the night’s two biggest performers women of color and outspoken Black Lives Matter advocates, but many of the night’s biggest names — from the pre-show to the finale — truly reflected the diverse generation that was watching on.

Let Kanye be Kanye. And then there’s Kanye West. While ladies truly ruled the night, the VMAs knew they could get everyone on the continent talking about their show by giving Kanye the microphone. Before debuting his new (let’s say interesting) video for “Fade,” MTV gave the always entertaining Kanye West full reign to “talk” for a full four minutes about his controversial “Famous” video, his legacy, his wife, and of course, a noticeably absent Taylor Swift. Here’s the full transcript if you missed it. I truly couldn’t look away.

[Full disclosure: This millennial fell asleep shortly after 10 p.m., so, apparently like everyone else, later accounts of the show were streamed from various channels after the fact.]