Despite a ton of hype and highly-anticipated performances from some of today's top music stars, MTV's 2016 VMA broadcast this past Sunday experienced a drastic ratings plunge compared with the previous outing. At the same time, the number of live streams skyrocketed, according to the network.
The success of a live televised event that also offers alternative internet live streams and then afterward, on-demand clips of key moments, is becoming increasingly difficult to measure. With so many Americans and others worldwide cutting cords and accessing content instead via streaming vehicles, it's hard to tell if an event is a hit or not.
This scenario most recently played out in NBC's Olympics telecast, which drew significantly lower ratings than past Olympics, yet recorded record web, mobile and on-demand viewing numbers. The most recent Grammy and Oscar awards suffered the same confusing fate, and now, the MTV VMAs is the latest annual awards show to sport somewhat confusing results.
At first glance, it doesn't look good for the broadcast, with viewership plunging a hefty 34 percent compared with the 2015 affair, dropping from 9.8 million viewers to 6.5 million this year. That was despite MTV's parent company Viacom having blasted the show simultaneously onto a slew of cable channels, including MTV, MTV2, MTV Classic, VH1, Comedy Central, Spike, TV Land, BET, CMT, Centric and Logo. The show was also heavily hyped and promoted due to the involvement of several superstar musical acts, including Kanye West, Beyoncé, Rihanna and the heralded return of Britney Spears to the VMA stage.
While numerous eyeballs avoided MTV and the other channels covering the event, the network is touting the record number of live streams counted for the show, which it says hit 62.8 million in total, 42.5 million of which were via Facebook, and an impressive 70 percent increase compared with last year's tally. The show trended heavily on Twitter as well, with an estimated 90 percent of TV-related tweets during the broadcast devoted to the VMAs. The #VMA hashtag trended for a full 13 hours around the show's airing.
Unfortunately for Viacom and MTV, tweets and live streams don't pay the bills, with the vast majority of the cable channel's revenue coming from advertising on its traditional commercial broadcast platform. The live stream numbers touted by the network are also hard to interpret when it comes to the number of actual individual viewers and the respective length of each recorded view.
It appears that, in this age of multitasking and plunging attention spans, many viewers are tiring of sitting through all of the filler that comes along with the meat of an awards show — the moments when the actual awards are given and the live performances. In an age where fans can often access their music and video immediately on-demand, they are increasingly expecting the ability to choose only the bits and pieces of live events that they have real interest in, even if it means watching clips of specific moments after they've actually occurred.