CBS Contemplates Poor Ratings for 2017 Tony Telecast

Low Viewership Proves Problematic For CBS at The Tony Awards

2017 Tony Awards Kevin SpaceyThe 71st annual Tony Awards, AKA the Antoinette Perry awards, were broadcast on CBS on Sunday, June 11th. This year’s host, Kevin Spacey, displayed a subtle humor and infectious charm that made him a likable character throughout the evening. A few standout performances made the Awards show feel like a spectacle. Ben Platt’s soaring vocals and the intriguing set design of Dear Evan Hansen made for a definite highlight of the night, justifying the Tony panel’s decision to make the musical the most winning show. The scene from Miss Saigon was stunning, with impeccable lighting design and strong vocals from star Eva Noblezada was yet another favorite. With such striking moments, why do the Tony’s continue to garner such low TV viewership and compare so poorly to other awards shows? 

TV Viewer Ratings Consistently Underwhelm

One would think that Broadway’s biggest night would make a splash with TV viewers, but it barely even made a ripple, with a reported viewership rating of only 4.7 and only 0.9 for the key demographic of adults aged 18-49 for this year’s telecast. That works out to be an average of just six million viewers. Compared to the ratings for the Oscars, 32.9 million viewers for an overall rating of 22.4 and 9.1 for adults 18-49, these numbers are pretty dismal. The Tony’s could barely even compete with the preceding episode of the news magazine 60 Minutes, which garnered over 7.6 million viewers. This means that 1.6 million people actually switched off their TV when the Tony’s were broadcast. Sadly, it does not end there. The Tony awards show is behind nearly every other awards show, with even the Billboard Awards consistently performing better (8.6 million views this year). Why would CBS continue a production that costs millions of dollars to put on and has ratings that compare to the Daytime Emmy’s, which aren’t even broadcast on a major network? The answer is that they may well now be reconsidering their options, despite the cachet of the Tony’s.

Hamilton Dominated 2016, Leaves 2017 Tony’s Dry

2000-2017 Tony Awards TV Viewership Compared to the Oscars ChartOne hope for the survival of the show came last year in the form of Hamilton, which provided a temporary spike in viewership in 2016 with 8.7 million viewers, and it’s no wonder why. Hamilton is popular independent of Broadway, and can be considered a national phenomenon. However, Hamilton is Broadway’s biggest exception. The last time the Tony Awards amassed more viewers was in 2001, with The Producers as the hottest show. Statistics show that the Tony’s soar when big shows are at the helm, but the problem is that smash hit productions are few and far in between. One prescription for this clear issue could be to bring a beloved, but no longer eligible, show such as Chicago, for just one performance during the Tony’s to hype up viewers.

Tony Awards Lack Surprise, Predictability Turns Off Audiences

In comparison, the morning after the Oscars, news outlets are buzzing. Everyone wants to hear about that celebrity that tripped, or that starlet who shined. With the Tony’s, there is none of this buzz. Most celebrities at the Tony’s are barely known outside the Broadway sphere. A theater medley sung mid-show by an established starlet with a legion of dedicated stans could help. Think Beyoncé singing Les Misérables– the move could boost ratings dramatically. For an awards show to truly soar, there need to be surprises that keep everyone talking, such as Kanye’s interruption of Taylor Swift at the VMAs, or La La Land’s mistaken Oscar “win”. Instead, the Tony’s read as predictable, formulaic. There’s no drama, no shock value. Everything goes according to plan during the Tony Awards – and maybe that’s a problem. It feels old.

Duration Of Show Drags The Tony’s Down

Another issue comes from the length of the show- it’s no secret that the Tony’s are long. This year’s Tony’s were over three hours long, which causes the show to drag on and bore viewers. A massive overhaul of the program would keep audiences listening, placing more emphasis on key moments such as performances instead of the ramblings of a host, and better yet, an overhaul of the Tony staff. A better choice would be a producer in the vein of Lorne Michaels, who knows how to get buzz for a live show and would bring in writers who could reinvent the Tony’s.  

CBS Must Decide Fate of Tony Awards SoonTony Awards viewership chart compared to other Awards shows on TV

At this point, it would be business-logical for CBS to just cease airing the Tony’s altogether, if only it was just a business decision. This move could devastate Broadway’s biggest fans, but the reality is that a TV network like CBS needs advertisers to pay the bills, and without any viewers, it cannot justify supporting a dying telecast. Perhaps the awards show could be picked up by some other major TV network, but the budget will most certainly drop as a result, causing the show to become a shadow of its former self. In order to prove to the network that theater deserves that crucial night in the spotlight, change is necessary, but the Tony’s are still stuck in the past and lack the vision needed to move the show forward.

The following two tabs change content below.
Christina Morningside is a native New Yorker who grew up loving theater and writing for various periodicals on the subject including Playbill and BroadwayWorld. Christina is an alumna from Columbia University in New York City and serves on several historic preservation committees in Manhattan. When Christina is not at a Broadway show, she can be found outdoors in Vermont enjoying snowshoeing or skiing in the winter and hiking mountains with her husband and their yellow lab in the summer.
,