Viewership for the Grammy Awards plunged 24 percent on Sunday night, setting a nine-year low in the ratings, with 19.8 million viewers.
Unlike other live events, the Grammys had maintained steady ratings over the past four years. Last year’s show even drew one million more viewers than the previous year.
But if the Grammys were an outlier in nearly across-the-board declines for awards shows and live sporting events, the law of gravity caught up this year.
There will be a number of theories to explain the decline. Though the Grammys had a lineup of big performers — including Kendrick Lamar, U2 and Rihanna — many superstars, including Taylor Swift, Drake and Kanye West, did not show up.
Awards shows have also gotten increasingly political, with celebrity presenters and winners playing the role of firebrands at town-hall meetings. The Grammys, which are broadcast on CBS, were no different on Sunday, with several performers bringing up immigration and the #MeToo movement. U2 performed on a barge just outside the Statue of Liberty, a performance not exactly subtle in its symbolism, and Hillary Clinton showed up in a taped segment, reading about President Trump’s preference for McDonald’s food from Michael Wolff’s best-seller, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, gave voice to proponents of the “shut up and sing” side of the debate. “I have always loved the Grammys but to have artists read the Fire and Fury book killed it,” Ms. Haley wrote in a tweet during the event. “Don’t ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it.”
TV executives have also suggested that viewership is cyclical, largely depending on whether there are blockbuster movies to promote or superstar singers set to perform. Analysts have also suggested that in the world of streaming, long telecasts packed with commercial breaks — the Grammys lasted a little more than three and a half hours — are a much harder sell for TV viewers these days.
Between 2013 and 2017, the Grammys’ ratings fluctuated between 26 million and 28 million viewers, good enough to make it the second-most-watched awards show, behind the Academy Awards.
Its numbing consistency had stood in contrast to the Oscars, which shed more than 10 million viewers between 2014 and 2017. Last year’s Academy Awards ceremony drew 32.9 million viewers. Likewise, the audience for the Emmy Awards broadcast fell 35 percent from 2013 to 2017. Smaller awards shows have also suffered: The MTV Video Music Awards, for example, have lost nearly half its audience in the last few years.
Sporting events have experienced drops, too. National Football League games went through another year of ratings declines this season, and the 2016 Olympic Games saw a big ratings drop.
Even with a steep loss in viewers, the Grammys are likely to remain the most second-most-viewed awards program. The Golden Globes this month had 19 million viewers, still below Sunday’s broadcast.