When the 57th Academy of Country Music Awards go live at 8 p.m. ET on March 7 from Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, the ceremony will become the first major music awards show to stream exclusively.
The ACM Awards, which most recently aired on CBS, will stream on Amazon’s Prime Video, and run for two hours with no interruptions. “It will be wall-to-wall” music, academy CEO Damon Whiteside says.
“We’re going to just totally reinvent everything about how we approach an awards show,” Whiteside says. That includes looking at expanding the global audience and airing live in the Pacific Standard Time zone as the show streams coast to coast instead of tape-delayed.
Hosted by Dolly Parton, with co-hosts Gabby Barrett and Jimmie Allen, the show will stream in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K., marking the first time the show has been available to watch outside of North America.
Whiteside says research showed fans wanted less chatter and commercials and a show shorter than the customary three hours.
Artists will perform on four stages, “so it’s just going to move really fast [without] a lot of talking,” he continues. “We have hosts and people will be accepting awards, but, in general, we’re trying to make it not a lot of packages and filler content.”
Partnering with Amazon Music also gave the ACM Awards access to deep data showing which artists people were streaming and allow the bookings to be “much more data-based,” he says. “The amount of data [Amazon] has under its hood is unbelievable. It’s not just the show booking, but how it’s marketed and how we’re reaching fans. It’s a total learning process for me.”
While the majority of the performers will still be nominees, Whiteside says, “Amazon caused us to think about [booking] a little differently. There are certain artists that drive consumption even with a new song because fans want to hear their new music. This year, we’re going to have a little bit more of a blend of some new material as well as the big hits.”
The show will include performances by Kelsea Ballerini, Brittney Spencer, Brothers Osborne, reigning entertainer of the year Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, top nominee Chris Young, Eric Church, Jason Aldean, Jordan Davis, Kane Brown, Walker Hayes, Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett, Mitchell Tenpenny, Chris Stapleton, Parmalee and Blanco Brown featuring Brooke Eden, Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde and BRELAND, whom Amazon Music named as its next all-genre Breakthrough Artist.
“There will be artists that are not nominated, but we want to showcase that artist or give them an opportunity on a global stage to be discovered,” Whiteside says of adding acts like Spencer and BRELAND.
No decision has been made on whether four-time nominee Morgan Wallen, who was declared ineligible last year following his use of a racial slur, will be asked to perform, though another round of performers is still coming. Whiteside stresses Wallen is welcome and, like every nominee, is encouraged to walk the red carpet and participate.
The shift to a stadium — the show was last at a stadium (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas) for its 50th anniversary in 2015 — ratchets up the excitement, Whiteside says.
After two years in Nashville during the pandemic, “we knew the industry and the artists wanted to go back to Vegas,” Whiteside says. “We thought, ‘Gosh, this is almost like the rebirth of the ACM Awards.’ It’s the first post-pandemic show back in Vegas after a two-year hiatus and first time ever on Amazon, first time to be global … it just felt like if there’s a year to just go big or go home, this is the year to do it and come back with a bang.”
The stadium is scaled for an audience between 30,000-40,000, Whiteside said.
While Whiteside declined to give specifics about the Amazon Music business deal, he said “in terms of structure, it’s not dramatically different from the broadcast partner. We [receive] a license fee for the show to produce and deliver the show, but [Amazon] has been incredibly collaborative. They collaborate with us on every single decision around the show.”
Whiteside also calls this year’s inaugural attempt a “test” to see how to go forward. “The plan right now is that we will sit down with them after this year’s show and just have a look at everything and evaluate what worked and when it didn’t work. And how do we make it better? But the intention of both parties is that this deal is structured for it to be a longer-term deal.”
The usual viewership numbers come into play, but there are so many other factors that go into determining the success of the show beyond the actual production and the usual metrics, including engagement, converting viewers on Amazon Prime Video to shopping and moving around the Amazon “ecosystem,” Whiteside says.
The academy will, as with a broadcast show, also be checking with labels to see how the ceremony moved the needle for their participating acts. Details of how the artists will be promoted are still being finalized, but there will be an ACM Awards page highlighting the nominees and performers that links to their product within Amazon.
Amazon Prime members will be able to watch the show live via the Amazon Fire Stick on their TV or via the Amazon Prime app. There will be a free option with commercials the next day via IMDb TV. Fans can then view the show for the next 30 days via either outlet globally.
The 57th Academy of Country Music Awards is produced by MRC Live & Alternative, which is owned by MRC. MRC is a co-owner of Billboard through a joint venture with Penske Media titled P-MRC.