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Is Amazon Paving the Way for Streaming Awards Shows?

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Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by Getty Images

Ratings for the Oscars, Emmys, and other major award shows have plummeted over the past five years, sparking all kinds of speculation about the future of kudocasts. Some industry insiders have even speculated whether it would be better for these celebratory ceremonies to cut the cord and move to streaming, where there would be less pressure to generate large audiences – or to bring the genre changes that are currently causing so much trouble among the Academy. Rewards superfans. We’re about to find out what such a digital future could look like: Tonight’s 57th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards will be streamed live on Amazon’s Prime Video, making it the first major awards show to be hosted exclusively on a digital platform. It will certainly not be the last.

In many ways, the ACM Awards are an unlikely pioneer in streaming. The country music-themed show was based on CBS from 1998 until last April, having had long stints on NBC and ABC. Although it never drew as much as the Grammys or the American Music Awards, the event remained a powerful Nielsen performer through 2019, when it was still able to attract 10 million daytime viewers. even and almost double its nearest rivals among slots. adults aged 25 to 54.

But as with so many big linear TV events, the pandemic and the continued expansion of streaming competition have taken their toll. Last year’s ACM TV show dropped to just 6 million viewers and produced an even weaker demo performance. And then, last summer, Paramount Global-owned CBS pulled out of contract renewal talks with producer MRC Live & Alternative, deciding instead to partner with sister cable network CMT to transform its CMT Awards franchise. for a long time in an exclusive Eye event. MRC, now looking for a new home for the ACMs, had some early conversations with Golden Globes partner NBC. But those went nowhere, almost surely because of the network’s concerns about the annual price, which industry sources pegged north of $20 million.

And that’s where Amazon’s Prime Video came in. It agreed to take over ACMs for a year, and while neither MRC nor the tech giant are talking about finances, it’s no exaggeration to saying the $20 million that CBS and NBC dithered doesn’t. be considered an extraordinary investment for a streamer. Plus, a big live event like the ACMs fits into Prime Video’s current game plan. The Amazon streamer has been more active in the live TV and music spaces of late, paying big bucks for the rights to NFL Thursday Night Football and pouring millions into events like its Prime Day concert series. “Now that we have the technology to be able to make them, it’s pretty exciting to be able to look at these great cultural moments around content,” Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, told Vulture. “So let it be country music [or] the Kanye-Drake concert, we are bringing the audience to this expectation that we will be delivering entertaining, live, and exclusive content on Prime Video.

Given Prime’s growing interest in live programming, an awards show with a half-century-old brand and a decently sized audience – even at last year’s reduced levels – seemed like a next step. logical, says Salke. “We’ve had our fair share of conversations around award shows, and this one felt like a natural progression,” she explains, noting that Amazon has “a huge country music fan base within our clientele”, which should be receptive to the event. ACMs will also give Prime the opportunity to do real-time market research: Will viewers still invested in awards shows follow them to a streaming service? And equally important, can a digital ecosystem such as Amazon Prime drive New audience at the show?

Because of the stakes involved, producers and Amazon are working hard to make this year’s ACMs a great consumer-friendly experience, according to Adam Stotsky, president of MRC Live & Alternative:

➽ The show is scheduled to last two hours, one hour less than on CBS. But unlike television, there will be no outdoor advertising. With 20 minutes of commercial time per hour now standard for many TV shows on the network, that means the 2022 ACMs will have almost exactly as much actual content as last year’s broadcast. And while there will be one or two breaks where Prime plans to run promotions for various Amazon products and shows, Stotksy promises those moments will add up to “maybe two” minutes in total. Additionally, Prime Video will also broadcast the ACMs live in nearly every territory it operates in, allowing for more immediate global reach than during the CBS years.

➽ Instead of being held in an arena or theater like most awards shows, this year’s ACMs are taking place at the approximately 70,000 capacity Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. “It’s a huge creative canvas,” says Stotsky, adding that the larger square footage will allow producers to set up at least four different mini-stages for performances and awards shows. This will help compensate for the fact that without frequent breaks for commercials, producers won’t have more time to reset for new performances.

➽ Basing the show in a stadium will also give the whole night the vibe of a big, in-person concert rather than a stuffy award show. “We view this as a concert first and secondarily as a TV show,” Stotsky says. “We don’t need outros in commercial breaks. We can go from action to action to action, or from reward to reward to reward… We don’t need to serve anything other than the consumer.

➽ Although the number of awards presented on Monday’s show will not decrease from previous years, the time spent on awards will be reduced. “The way we’re going to do it is much more efficient,” Stotksy says, explaining that, for example, prizes can be awarded in pairs. Performers won’t have to waive acceptance speeches, however, the executive insists. “We continue to highlight and celebrate the best work of the year and the artists that fans love and want to celebrate,” he says. “I think we’re going to do it in a slightly elevated way that will feel new and fresh.”

Unsurprisingly, since this will now be an Amazon event, the ACMs will be monetized as well as (digitally) televised. “What was really unique for us at this event was the opportunity to not only create a great TV experience for Prime Video, but also tap into what’s called Amazon’s flywheel. “said Stotsky. This means that in addition to a live red carpet pre-show on Prime, there will be a so-called “shoppable” remix of the same time on Amazon Live, QVC’s version powered by influencers from the society. Viewers will be able to purchase merchandise from artists who perform on the show or pre-order Parton’s new album and book, as well as Amazon Fashion merchandise aimed at country music audiences. Amazon Music and Amazon-owned Twitch will also be heavily involved in promoting the show. “It really starts to fuel the fan experience throughout Prime. It deepens the connection,” Salke says. give them more, it pays off. That’s always the goal. It’s never just about trying to find other ways to benefit from it.

While Amazon will do everything possible to get audiences to tune in live on Monday, the ACMs will also be available for on-demand viewing after the show ends. Additionally, after an exclusive one-day window on Prime, a rerun of the show will begin airing on IMDb TV, Amazon’s free, ad-supported streaming service, as well as a version with musical performances only. “The cut will just remove those price beats, and it will be a non-stop concert event,” Stotsky said. Amazon Music also plans to make the show available to its customers on March 10.

Because Amazon doesn’t reveal ratings, measuring whether streaming ACMs work won’t be a straightforward process. Stotsky says MRC and Prime “obviously want to deliver as many people as possible” to the initial broadcast and reruns, but the extent to which the show moves the needle in other areas — such as e-commerce integrations above – will also be important. Either way, we’ll probably get an idea of ​​what Amazon thinks in a few months: the company only has a one-year licensing deal with MRC, so if the experience disappoints, the company won’t probably won’t be back for the 2023 show.