Awards shows are losing viewers. Could a move to streaming be the ultimate prize?

A replica of The Actor statue on the red carpet at the 25th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 27, 2019. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/The Associated Press - image credit)
A replica of The Actor statue on the red carpet at the 25th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 27, 2019. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/The Associated Press - image credit)

Awards shows have been in plight for years, as tanking viewership coincides with a drastically evolved industry. But the ceremonies — which traditionally call broadcast television their home — could finally be making a mass exodus to streaming.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, which honour acting in film and television, announced Wednesday that Netflix will stream its annual ceremony. The 2023 event will be shown on Netflix's YouTube page, with a planned move to the streaming platform itself in 2024 for a "multi-year partnership."

It's the first major awards show to make a complete leap from broadcast television to streaming. But others, like the Tony Awards and the Golden Globes, are still just dipping their toes into the water.

"Forget about the ratings," said Bill Brioux, a Canadian media and television columnist. "There doesn't seem to be a business reason to show it anymore," because much of the awards landscape is now dominated by television and movies that we watch on streaming platforms. For every Abbott Elementary, there are five shows similar to Severance, Squid Game or Andor.

But 2022 marked a turning point in streaming service supremacy, as subscription growth tapered off and some longtime subscribers ditched their accounts. With awards shows struggling to maintain relevancy, is this just one sinking ship jumping onto another?

The awards show of the future

Clayton Davis, senior awards editor at Variety, thinks the SAG Awards' move to streaming will be a success. He also predicts other major awards shows, many of which air on broadcast networks already affiliated with one of the streaming giants, will soon follow suit.

"I was actually happy. I think it was a move that has now kick-started the new world order we're going to exist in for award ceremonies," he said.

"We're 25 years this year from the highest-rated Oscar telecast in history, that 50 million viewed. That was the year of Titanic, and everyone's been chasing that ever since. And we're never gonna get back on the straight broadcast network," Davis added.

WATCH | Low ratings raise questions of awards show relevance:

Netflix being the exception, nearly every streaming giant — from Disney Plus to Prime Video — shares a parent company with a broadcast network, each of which are home to a major awards telecast.

The Tony Awards air on CBS, but last year's awards were partially shown on its CBSViacom's streaming service, Paramount Plus. And Tuesday night's Golden Globes aired on NBC — but the show was also livestreamed on Peacock, an NBCUniversal-owned streaming service.

U.S. measurement firm Nielsen painted a grim picture of the Golden Globes ratings: only 6.3 million people watched the Globes on NBC, partially thanks to an awkward Tuesday night slot. Several entertainment outlets reported that the show's availability on Peacock likely gave it an additional boost, but its impact is difficult to judge with yet-released viewership numbers from the streamer.

Chris Pizzello/The Associated Press
Chris Pizzello/The Associated Press

Awards shows, which were already staring down a dwindling viewership pre-2020, took a hard hit when the pandemic forced events online or led to the postponement of the celebrations entirely.

The SAG Awards are not the first to make the jump from broadcast television to exclusive streaming. The Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards moved from CBS to Amazon Prime last year, where they will also stream this year.

"That's why I think it would be successful."

A Super Bowl analogy

Streaming could bring more eyeballs to an awards show — but the event's long-term success is about the entertainment factor. For Davis, it doesn't matter as much what's nominated, who's hosting, or how long the show is.

"I think people will watch a fun show, a good show. It doesn't matter what's nominated. If they feel like it's an event that they have to tune in for," said Davis.

"I always compare it to the Super Bowl, right? Not everyone watches football during the regular season, but they tune in for the Super Bowl, because there's something there for everyone. It's the game, plus there's the commercials. There's [the] halftime show, or all these things are tied to it that make it exciting."

Brioux notes that live sports — "the last big prize broadcast" — are moving to streaming, too.

"The Super Bowl is still the biggest show on television every year. But even there, we're seeing NFL games migrate to Apple and Amazon Prime."

David Livingston/Getty Images
David Livingston/Getty Images

Netflix, for its part, has opted not to go down the live sports rabbit hole. But it is showing further interest in livestreaming opportunities. After trade website Deadline reported in March that the streaming service was exploring live events, Netflix announced in November that it would livestream Chris Rock's upcoming comedy special in early 2023.

Just last month, Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos said that the company will offer livestreaming for "things that are creatively benefited by live," Variety reported.

"Netflix has had a crazy year and they lost a lot of money in terms of stock market and the price of the stock value," said Brioux. "It's still in 200 million homes worldwide … that's still a lot of subscriptions."

"I think that the only argument against, say, the Oscars going on streaming is — and I don't think it matters anymore — but if too many people are streaming at the same time the system may not be able to carry it."