Scaled-Back Grammys Could Fail to Boost Needed Sales to Recording Industry

Pressure From Striking Writers to Force Talent to Stay Home Comes at Bad Time for Music Biz

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LOS ANGELES ( -- With the writers strike now looming over the Feb. 10 Grammy Awards, the question is how much damage could be done to the $11.5 billion music business should the industry's most important awards show get scaled back -- or fail to go on.

And the answer appears to be: plenty.

The Grammy organizers were still scrambling at press time to obtain a waiver for the CBS program, and the news of a directors-guild settlement seemed to make a pact to end the strike a bit more likely.
The Dixie Chicks' album sales rose 714% after a Grammy telecast.
The Dixie Chicks' album sales rose 714% after a Grammy telecast.
But, as first reported on, without a deal either way, the awards show clearly is in danger.

Unhelpful holiday
If the writers guild pickets the Grammys and top artists stay home, the recorded-music business may take a big hit at a time when it can ill afford it. According to the latest retail sales report from Nielsen Soundscan, physical-album retail sales plunged 15% last year, and a 45% increase in downloads failed to make up the difference. An analysis of Nielsen Soundscan data by Variety in December 2007 found that during the crucial Christmas holiday season, album sales dropped a whopping 21% compared with last year.

Little wonder, then, that the world's fourth-largest record label, EMI, last week announced it would pink-slip as many as 2,000 employees -- a third of its staff -- to contain costs. In such dire times, the Grammys aren't gravy; they're very much the turkey.

But does winning a Grammy on TV really persuade viewers to buy more records?

"I've never seen it hurt," deadpanned Irving Azoff, manager of acts such as the Eagles, Van Halen, Jewel, Seal and Christina Aguilera.

Actually, to say that the Grammys have a significant impact on sales for both new and established artists is an understatement. Per Billboard, 2007 Grammy performer and nominee Corinne Bailey Rae's debut album enjoyed a 132% increase in sales from exposure on the CBS broadcast.

Big sales
Veteran performers the Dixie Chicks used the show as a shortcut to big sales for "Taking the Long Way," riding a 714% surge onto the Billboard 200 list compared with its position only a week before the Grammy telecast.

Happily, after a lackluster showing two years ago, according to Nielsen Media Research, last year's Grammy telecast audience perked up by roughly 18%, an estimated 20 million viewers.

Should the Grammys go on at full strength this year, they might also benefit from the afterglow of "American Idol." Chris Daughtry, a contestant from season five, is nominated for four Grammys; the winner of the season three, Fantasia, received two nominations this year; and the tune "Before He Cheats" by "Idol" winner Carrie Underwood received a nod in the songwriting category.

As TelevisionWeek noted last week, despite being down 13% in the Nielsen ratings from last year, "American Idol" still delivered some 33 million viewers for Fox in its season premiere. With this year's Grammys so chock-full of "American Idol" alumni, ratings could soar higher, as could badly needed album sales.

NAACP Image, SAG awards could snare more viewers

The strike that was the bane of the Golden Globes might actually be a boon for two awards shows.

Also-rans such as the NAACP's Image Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards stand to benefit if star-starved TV watchers who'd normally eschew the low-wattage broadcasts tune in to catch celebs who didn't turn up for the Globes and who may not show for the Oscars.

Both telecasts have obtained waivers from writer's guild and are therefore proceeding. The SAG broadcast is slated for Jan. 27 and the NAACP for Feb. 14. Given the Image and SAG awards' traditional ratings, the only way to go is likely up.

For example, the NAACP's telecast has been a ratings laggard. Last year, it managed an anemic 1.3 rating and 4 share.

In 2005, when the Screen Actors Guild announced its date for the 2006 SAG Awards, its contract still hadn't been renewed with TNT, due to flagging ratings. Last year, the combined TBS/TNT simulcast reached a total of just 2.6 million adults 18 to 49. A 2007 TNT press release touted it as "The most-watched cable telecast of a ceremony ever, with more than 5.8 million viewers." But that was including people over the age of 2.

Then again, due to the strike, TV viewership is down, and, according to a study by consultancy Interpret, three in 10 Americans (27%) are watching less network TV because of the strike, and heavy TV viewers (21-plus hours a week) -- that crucial, self-selecting group most likely to watch the SAG Awards -- are most affected. Some 32% of them are watching less network TV as a result.

Sometimes you can't win for losing.
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