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Op-Ed: CMA Ratings Down

Op-Ed: CMA Ratings Down

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34% in the 18-49 target demo, and 29.5% overall.

Is it television or is it the music?


Let’s start with TV, we no longer live in a monoculture, the only appointment TV is the Super Bowl, not because of the game but because it’s become a national holiday, many attendees at parties don’t even bother to watch the contest. Television is now personalized, on demand, you only watch what you want to see and the networks and cable channels have not yet figured this out. Furthermore, people are expecting honesty and edge, something lacking from the CMAs for eternity. It’s a last century show. Aw-shucks in a world where everybody’s got high speed cable and LTE, where country singers rap and we’re all sophisticated. The myth of flyover country is just that. People in red states don’t vote Republican because they’re uninformed, but because that’s what they believe. But never underestimate the power of media entities to underestimate the intelligence of the audience. This is how MTV was victorious with the VMAs, they realized it was a TV show, no one cared who won, first and foremost the show must be entertaining, something the Oscars have never realized, at least not in my lifetime. The Oscars are a party for the industry, and contrary to popular belief most people don’t want to hang out with these people, certainly not the business people, maybe some of the celebrities. You’ve got to give the people what they want, which isn’t necessarily lowbrow, but if you give them popcorn all summer don’t expect them to want to eat foie gras in February.

But the music…

Country is predicated on old rules. The songs are written by others, primarily about bland subjects, like house and home these days, and radio rules. Only it doesn’t. Many have tuned out. And even more will. Hell, the biggest artist in today’s country music, loved by both Nashville insiders and fans, is Chris Stapleton, and there’s only one of him, he’s honest and forthright and emphasizing the basics in songs he mostly writes, you’d think someone else would follow this formula. Authenticity rules. People want experiences. Awards shows are lousy experiences, furthermore, you have to sit through the music of all these people you don’t like. So the Grammys are doomed. Trying to please everybody means you please nobody.

But country is a narrower focus.

Could it be that country is not delivering what the audience truly wants?

There are few women on country radio, but the audience is more than half female. Maybe these listeners would like to hear more women, at least a woman’s viewpoint, that appeals to men too.

And Americana is shut out of the CMAs, shouldn’t Jason Isbell be on every awards show? And we’ve already determined that the awards are secondary, so how about an up and coming artist. Is Brandi Carlile country? Arguably so. People are passionate about Brandi, is ANYBODY passionate about Carrie Underwood? She sings, she married a hockey player, but she’s vapid. As for Brad Paisley… One hell of a guitarist who’s completely sans charismas.

And “Mayberry” has been in reruns for half a century. Nowhere does cornpone live anymore, but we still get the cornpone jokes. It’d be like the Grammys featuring the Royal Guardsmen singing about Snoopy and the Red Baron, then again, that might be more interesting than what we’ve got!

So the awards show is dead and buried. Most people believe there’s no reason to tune in. The time to fulfillment ratio is way off. Especially when I can pull up something I want to see on Netflix. And the competition is not only cable and on demand, but Fortnite and Facebook… The audience moved on and television hasn’t even realized it.

As for the music played…

We live in an old world with an old construct. That there are only forty records on the radio, if that, and the rest don’t exist. But that’s patently untrue. It’s a much wider world out there, and more people than ever don’t believe in the top forty, and now they’ve got choice. The Spotify Top 50 doesn’t really dominate, but those in it get all the ink and accolades and the rest of the audience shrugs its shoulders, it doesn’t care.

So what we’ve really got is opportunity. The world has gotten broader, people want more acts, but the business infrastructure is STILL operating on a pre-internet paradigm.

This is what’s going to change. For fifteen years we fought about distribution. Streaming won, it’s on demand, that’s it.

Now we have to focus on the content. Revolution is coming. Once again, the audience is ahead of the business. Those who follow the audience will win in the end. And the audience wants more than what we’re giving them, MUCH more.

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