How Our Year of Isolation Changed Entertainment

Staggeringly low ratings from the Grammys and Golden Globes prove the traditional mass-audience awards spectacle is over

Rob Walker


Trevor Noah at the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards at Los Angeles Convention Center on March 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

If an organization started handing out trophies for the most astonishing collapse in cultural relevance, this year’s top prize would have to go to — awards shows. The ratings plunges for recent awards shows are staggering, suggesting a major turning point for a ritual that has been vital to the business of entertainment for decades. At long last, it appears the traditional mass-audience awards spectacle is over.

This week’s CBS broadcast of the Grammys is the freshest example. The ratings fell a stomach-churning 51% from last year to a record low 9.2 million viewers who tuned in or streamed the broadcast. (The prior all-time low, in 2006, was 17 million TV viewers.) Incredibly, the ceremony wasn’t even in the highest-rated show of the week, coming in second behind an episode of NCIS. This ratings humiliation came just weeks after a similarly gruesome showing from the Golden Globes, whose audience shriveled by 62% to a measly 6.9 million — its smallest ever by a long shot.

The collapse of the awards show is a side effect of a bigger shift that, as the cliché goes, happened gradually and then all at once. It’s been a…