How the ACM Awards Plans to Bring the ‘Core Country Audience’ to Amazon Prime for This Year’s Show
Academy of Country Music CEO Damon Whiteside discusses what lessons were learned following last year's switch from CBS to the streaming service.
As Academy of Country Music CEO Damon Whiteside prepares for the 58th edition of the ACM Awards to return to Amazon’s Prime Video on May 11, he says lessons learned from the 2022 edition are guiding this year’s show.
Last year, the ACM Awards became the first major awards ceremony to switch from broadcast to a streaming platform. “There was a chunk of people that didn’t know we moved from CBS,” Whiteside says. “What we’ve learned is we have to really lean into our core country audience and make sure they’re aware the show is happening. For anybody that is not a regular Prime Video user, we need to bring them into the Prime Video ecosystem and show them how simple it is.”
To make it as accessible as possible, Amazon is offering the show for free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike across more than 240 countries and territories via Prime Video and the Amazon Music channel on Twitch. The full show will stream the next day for free on Amazon Freevee.
(Though rare, Prime Video has offered livestreams in the past, including for Kanye West and Drake‘s “Free Larry Hoover” benefit concert in 2021. Amazon could not be reached for comment by press time.)
It helps that this year, the show’s co-hosts are two of the biggest stars in the world: Dolly Parton (who hosted last year with Jimmie Allen and Gabby Barrett) and Garth Brooks. Whiteside says he’s still “pinching myself” that the music icons are emceeing the two-hour show, which will stream commercial-free from the Ford Center at the Star in Frisco, Tex.
After Parton hosted last year, “Our goal right away was ‘How can we get Dolly back involved again?’” Whiteside says. Once she was on board, the idea came to pair her with Brooks, who has never hosted an awards show before. “They’re close friends, admirers of each other, so it was actually very organic,” he continues. “We couldn’t have a better pair than the two of them to be the face of the show because we’re a global show and they’re global superstars.”
This year’s show has been thrown the curveball of the Writers Guild of America strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which started at midnight Tuesday (May 2). However, a source tells Billboard that the script was completed before the strike began and the show is not expected to be affected even if the strike is still ongoing.
This year marks the ACM Awards’ return to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex for the first time since its 50th anniversary show in 2015 (last year’s ceremony was held at Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium). The show’s host venue, the Ford Center at the Star, serves as the world headquarters for the Dallas Cowboys, who are partners for this year’s event. “Ever since I took this job [in 2019], my board said we need to work with the Cowboys again,” Whiteside says. “They’re amazing partners and Texas is a great market.”
HARDY leads all nominees at this year’s show with seven nods, followed by Lainey Wilson with six. Cole Swindell, Kane Brown, Luke Combs and Miranda Lambert each have five, while Chris Stapleton and Morgan Wallen landed four.
This year’s awards will feature several changes. The songwriter of the year category has been split into songwriter of the year and artist-songwriter of the year awards, while the criteria for album of the year eligibility shifted from 51% to 75% previously unreleased material. Most notably, the entertainer of the year category has expanded from five to seven nominees.
“We have so many amazing entertainer nominees that we’d like to showcase more of a breadth of them and [the expansion] gives more opportunity for more artists to have that spotlight,” Whiteside says. “It gives seven artists now the opportunity to say, ‘I’m an entertainer of the year nominee.’ So, it was to diversify, but also to give more artists the opportunity to be able to wear that badge of honor.”
The show, which is produced by Dick Clark Productions, also has a new executive producer in Raj Kapoor, who takes over for R.A. Clark, who “was ready to pass the baton,” Whiteside says. “We love him and never want to see him go, but we’re really excited about Raj,” who has worked on projects including the Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards and numerous Las Vegas residencies. “He’s got a really good sense of what country is about and who the artists are, but at the same time, he’s also got this experience from all these other shows,” Whiteside adds. “He’s got his finger on the pulse of pop culture and what the public wants.”
Kapoor is joined by fellow executive producers Barry Adelman and Fonda Anita as well as co-executive producer Patrick Menton. Whiteside serves as executive producer for the Academy.
Performers slated for the event include Jason Aldean, Brown, Combs, Lambert, Wilson, Swindell, Wallen, Jelly Roll, Keith Urban and Bailey Zimmerman.
For the first time since the pandemic began, the ACM Awards will return to a full slate of activities for the week. These include the ACM Lifting Lives benefit on May 10, featuring Wallen, Wilson, HARDY, ERNEST and Zimmerman and hosted at the golfing green of Topgolf the Colony.
For the streaming audience, another goal was figuring out how to enhance the show’s ability to push viewers to participating artists’ Amazon Music accounts. “There’s going to be this uber-location where we can push our viewers to discover everything about the [participating] artists,” Whiteside says. “We can literally within the show push people right into streaming music. I’m excited to see how that’s going to lift artists’ streaming numbers and sales numbers after the show.” Ahead of the ceremony, Amazon Music is offering an ACM Awards playlist celebrating this year’s nominees.
This year’s show concludes the ACM Awards’ initial two-year pact with Amazon, but Whiteside is optimistic that the two partners will find a way to move forward. “Streamers are very much about the metrics, and they do a lot of evaluating around how the show performs,” he says, but adds, “[Amazon is] hugely excited about this show. It’s a tentpole priority for them. We’ve been having discussions about ’24 and ’25. We’re really just focused on another stellar year and growing from last year. We’re hopeful this is a long-term partnership.”
The 58th ACM Awards are produced by Dick Clark Productions, which is owned by Penske Media Eldredge, a unit of Billboard’s parent, Penske Media Company.