Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, gave voice to proponents of the “shut up and sing” side of the debate. “I have always loved the Grammys but to have artists read the Fire and Fury book killed it,” Ms. Haley wrote in a tweet during the event. “Don’t ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it.”
TV executives have also suggested that viewership is cyclical, largely depending on whether there are blockbuster movies to promote or superstar singers set to perform. Analysts have also suggested that in the world of streaming, long telecasts packed with commercial breaks — the Grammys lasted a little more than three and a half hours — are a much harder sell for TV viewers these days.
There are also more digital distractions than ever. HQ Trivia, the live streaming smartphone quiz app, said it had 1.6 million players on Sunday night, a record for the game, which went live about an hour and a half into the Grammys telecast.
Between 2013 and 2017, the Grammys’ ratings fluctuated between 26 million and 28 million viewers, good enough to make it the second-most-watched awards show, behind the Academy Awards.
Its numbing consistency had stood in contrast to the Oscars, which shed more than 10 million viewers between 2014 and 2017. Last year’s Academy Awards ceremony drew 32.9 million viewers. Likewise, the audience for the Emmy Awards broadcast fell 35 percent from 2013 to 2017. Smaller awards shows have also suffered: The MTV Video Music Awards, for example, have lost nearly half its audience in the last few years.
Sporting events have experienced drops, too. National Football League games went through another year of ratings declines this season, and the 2016 Olympic Games saw a big ratings drop.
Even with a steep loss in viewers, the Grammys are likely to remain the most second-most-viewed awards program. The Golden Globes this month had 19 million viewers, still below Sunday’s broadcast.