The first performers announced for this year’s Grammy Awards telecast had the distinction of being first-timers (Daft Punk), unique pairings (Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons, P!nk and Nate Ruess) and a quartet of country music stars (Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Blake Shelton). And they all give TV viewers a reason to tune in to the CBS show on Jan. 26.
The Grammys are playing to their strengths with this first set of artists, but there may be more than meets the eye here.
The Grammys’ fan base looks to TV as a central platform for music, and these performers show TV serving the traditional viewer. The introduction of P!nk as an electrifying performer — she gave eye-popping performances at MTV’s Video Music Awards in 2008, the 2010 Grammys and last year’s American Music Awards — so her next appearance has a level of suspense. Imagine Dragons owe much of their visibility to TV ads, and country just plain works on TV. Daft Punk provides a bonus: While it’s seen online in videos, the act has yet to perform on U.S. TV.
Harder for CBS will be when it needs to get that fan base to move from one platform to another.
Robin Thicke, Lorde and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were the featured performers on the Grammy nominations show in December, which did no favors for CBS’ Friday night ratings. It’s possible that it’s not so much indifference from the audience toward the nominations, but more about the nature of how those artists’ fans choose to experience their music.
The three acts are products of the on-demand age, all creators of video and music content that makes YouTube a leader on the Web and SoundCloud a growing concern. It’s a user base that relishes free, instantaneous access, not a parade of performances, ads and facts that don’t affect their lives.
Beyond the Grammys, we’ll start to see if anyone can convert Internet clicks into TV viewership as Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Revolt TV goes national and Mark Cuban, Ryan Seacrest and AEG’s AXS TV renews its effort to attract millennials.
The two networks care deeply about attracting and engaging members of the same demographic, 18- to 25-year-olds — with Revolt doing it on the backs of music videos and free content, and AXS focusing on live performances. Both aim to offer the pop-culture equivalent of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” as well.
With a head start of more than year, AXS has found that classic rock and country attract larger audiences than anything geared toward the under 30 crowd and that converting compelling YouTube offerings into TV shows is a tough sell. Without any Nielsen ratings to go by, AXS staffers anecdotally say that one contemporary artist on his way to becoming the network’s poster boy of success is country act Zac Brown.
AXS and Revolt want their audiences to embrace their programming much like a Twitter feed: It’s all about being in the moment, and the only way to share that moment is to tune in. Once the viewer starts tweeting about the networks’ programming, success is within reach. Engagement with these models is measured in social media conversations attractive to sponsors that seek an active crowd rather than the passivity of the TV advertising model.
Much as Combs has expressed a desire for Revolt to recapture the spirit of MTV in its prime, it’s hard to see how many teenagers are patient enough to sit through programming to get what they were promised. And how many will use the channel for music discovery, or even play a role in creating new stars? If it works, more models featuring cross-platform consumption among TV, mobile phones and computers will be built in a hurry.