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My Thoughts on the Ratings of the VMAs on The CW

I'm a fan of media in general, but I love following linear television. It still has the ability to bring in millions of viewers, but its reach has steadily decreased, especially with the 18-49 demographic. The big event shows like the MTV VMAs continue to prove that the ability to reach millions of viewers still exists on television. However Viacom has had to change the way it reaches that linear audience.

The VMAs have been a staple of MTV for over 35 years. Like most big event shows, they’re an easy way for the channel to bring in millions of viewers and excitement on social networks. One thing that has changed is how the show is aired. Prior to 2009, the show was only broadcast on MTV, but from 2009 to 2011, the show also aired on VH1. This briefly stopped until 2014 when MTV, MTV2, VH1, and Logo aired the show. After this year, the show then aired across the Viacom cable channels. Viacom does this with their other big event shows, like MTV Movie and TV Awards, the Comedy Central Roasts, and Comedy Central's Lights Out with David Spade also premiered on Paramount Network and TV Land, and in a rare event actually had higher viewership on TV Land. Either way, the use of simulcasting a big event across multiple channels brings in higher viewership. The viewership on other channels that are not the main home for the event doesn't usually bring in more than 300,000 viewers, but it still helps.

The 2020 VMAs had some obvious changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No audience, taped performances, and video conferencing. The one new thing that caught my eye was an additional channel added to the simulcast list: The CW. CBS and WarnerMedia have a joint venture with the network, so when Viacom merged with CBS, it became a part of the same Viacom family. Given the target audience for The CW is roughly what MTV aims for, it makes sense, but what I was curious to see was the ratings that night for The CW, which you can see here.

The event is very obviously run by MTV, with the channel being the sole one to air a preshow. Still, considering the fact that The CW is a network free to anyone with an antenna, I was very interested to see how many viewers the channel would get. No surprise, the other Viacom cable channels only reached under 300,000 viewers, but I was somewhat surprised to see MTV's broadcast holding the highest viewership at 1.3 million, and The CW airing reaching over 850,000 viewers. 

While I understand the show is very publicized as an MTV event, I was still a little surprised to see The CW, a network, with such little viewership. Yet, I am not that surprised given how poorly the networks have been through COVID-19, with The CW not fairing much better. Still, it's an event The CW doesn't have to pay to produce, and it brought in more viewership than the iHeartRadio Music Festival would bring in for The CW.

Given that the world has more than just linear television to pass the time, it makes sense that Viacom would produce one show that would appear on multiple channels, given that viewership hasn't exactly increased overall for linear television. Still, it's just interesting to note just how much the media landscape has changed. Networks were once a home to shows that could bring in tens of millions of viewers, with cable (on a special event) able to come close to that number. Now that people can watch TV anywhere, even without a television, I'm endlessly fascinated with what the future holds.


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