Big-time TV Events Are On a Roll

March 9, 2010

Chances are you watched the Oscars Sunday evening. 41.3 million of us did to be exact – a 14 percent increase from the 2009 show and the highest in five years. Was it because the best picture category expanded to 10 nominees to include something for everybody? Was it because one of the night’s key films was the biggest movie ever? Was it the David vs. Goliath story line that pit the night’s eventual big winner, “The Hurt Locker,” against James Cameron’s populist “Avatar?” Or was it the ex-spouses facing off? All those things certainly could be considered significant reasons, but a recent trend suggests that even sans the great story lines it probably would’ve found a way to draw big ratings. Consider this:

  • The most recent Super Bowl was the most-watched telecast ever
  • The Golden Globes saw a 14 percent increase from last year
  • The Grammys saw an amazing 35 percent increase in viewership this year
  • The Olympics were the second largest US Olympic audience ever, surpassed only by the Kerrigan/Harding miniseries of 1994

Coincidence? It’s easy to point out that the Super Bowl had the league MVP, two teams that were 13-0 at one point in the season and the Hurricane Katrina sub-plot. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to argue that the Golden Globes, too, benefited from the same things the Oscars did. But the Grammys? Did 35 percent more people really tune in to see Lady Gaga and Elton John perform together? And The Olympics? I think the strongest case can be made for them that something is to thank other than unusually great stories. Is that thing social media?

Local WCCO producer Gregg Litman recently wrote about social media being a big reason for the ratings surge and I agree. These huge cultural events used to make for good banter around the watercooler the next day, but now viewers gather around it during the show and it’s much more a communal experience. So is that the reason? Could it not be because more people are staying home more with tight budgets, watching the tube because it’s cheaper than going out to dinner and a movie? My colleague John Reinan points out that with the continuing fragmentation of media, people may now crave these big, communal events more than ever.   

The BNET Media story that I linked to in the first paragraph also points out that broadcasters of big events are likely to factor in “the social media effect” from now on and be likely to ask for major ad rate increases. When considering that, it’s amazing to think about how recently stories like “Super Bowl ads decreasing for the first time ever” and the whole “DVR, TIVO, On-Demand, etc. will be the demise of TV” were written. It’s been one heck of a three-month stretch or so for TV and I’m curious to know what you think – what’s the reason for it and can this continue?