A buzz deficiency is one factor, but another is the rapid change in how MTV's young audience consumes content.
The network said Tuesday that there were 149 million streams of VMA content online Sunday and Monday, a combination of live streaming through MTV's website and aggressive packaging of video clips on venues like Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like. The majority of streams (86 million) came Monday, after people heard or read about the show and wanted to check out clips, MTV said.
The comparable number of streams for 2015 was 30.7 million, MTV said.
MTV traditionally airs the show live at 9 p.m. on the east coast, and at the same hour via tape delay in other time zones. That follows the common television rule of placing content at a time when advertisers will pay more for commercials.
Sean Atkins, MTV president, said Tuesday that may change.
Watch Every 2016 VMAs Performance Here
"In a world where you are multi-platforming, when I can experience it on my feed from my friends on Facebook who are in New York, are you better off just going live?" he asked. "You give everyone essentially equal access to every platform at the same time."
On Facebook, which has become more aggressive promoting video in the past year, there were 45.8 million streams of VMA material on Sunday, compared to 4.4 million in 2015, MTV said.
Atkins said MTV is committed to giving its fans access to its material in as many ways as possible.
"Gone are the days where TV is where you go to," he said. "TV has to come to you."
The challenge for a network like MTV is making the new model work financially. All of those clips are accompanied by advertisements, but aren't nearly as valuable as the ads shown on television.
The stark decline of the VMAs as a TV product means less money for the TV ads, too. In 2011, the VMAs — known more for outlandish behavior or performances than its awards — attracted 12.4 million viewers on MTV alone. This year, 3.3 million people saw the show on MTV, with the total viewership swelling because it aired on some many other networks.
Again by more common TV rules, MTV would seem to have been hurt by an inability to announce that Beyonce was performing until the day of the show, by agreement with the singer's camp. This reduced the ability to drum up interest through advance promotion.
But Atkins noted that there were widespread rumors among MTV's fans before Sunday that she would appear, and that he didn't think the late notice made much difference in the show's television ratings.
MTV had no numbers, but said Beyonce's performance was the most-streamed part of the show.