How Cute, The CMTs Think They’re A Real Awards Show

Look I get it. Worrying over country music awards shows is similar to worrying over country radio. It’s not that they don’t have an effect on the music at all. It’s just that as every year passes, they go on to serve a smaller and smaller niche of the country music market, and continue to be less representative of the interests of country fans at large as independent stars that are never considered for either radio play or awards continue to reshape the paradigm, and gain market share.

Especially here in the post-pandemic era when ratings for all kinds of awards shows across popular culture have fallen off a cliff, the influence of these once appointment television institutions has never been lower. That’s why few were surprised when CBS chose not to renew their contract with the ACM Awards in June, especially when the ACMs asked for $2 million more for their broadcast rights than before.

But now it appears CBS had a bigger plan in play. As part of the greater Viacom media empire, CBS also owns the cable channel CMT, which broadcasts its own awards show annually, the CMT Awards. Now CBS has announced that in replacement of the ACM Awards that usually broadcast in April, they will broadcast their sister network’s CMT Awards instead, which will move from its normal spot in June to the traditional ACM Awards slot in April.

In certain ways, it is a smart move for the CMT Awards. Being on cable, which only 34% of adults ages 18 to 29 even have any more and falling (similar to the ratings of awards shows), this gives the CMT Awards the opportunity for greater visibility. Let’s face it, CMT used to be an important cultural institution for both country music, and American culture at large. But in the last decade, it’s simply become a repository for reruns, with perfunctory video programming in the mornings.

That said, it’s sort of a dick move for them move to the month that’s been the ACMs for years. Of course, it’s hard to shed a tear for the ACMs, but not only are they currently without a network home, they’re now out of a slot on the calendar unless they want to directly compete with the CMTs. After the cycles were all messed up last year during the pandemic, this throws the ACM eligibility windows and such all up in the air yet again.

Traditionally, the CMTs broadcast in June to coincide with CMA Fest in Nashville when all the mainstream country stars are in town. The CMTs would broadcast from the Bridgestone Arena as part of the greater CMA Fest festivities.

But what’s most important to understand about all this awards show musical chair shuffling is that the CMT Awards have never been, and never will be an actual country music awards show. It was always more of an infomercial for CMT, and now the platform of CMT is so marginalized, the network can’t even broadcast its crown jewel presentation on it. Similar to radio stations in many American markets, cable stations have just become rebroadcast franchises for syndicated programming.

The Country Music Association that puts on the CMAs every November is an actual trade organization with a CEO and Board of Directors that do other things aside from throw an awards show annually. They advocate for country music, represent the interests of the genre, choose inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and help expand music education among other missions. They may not do any of these things well, but they have a mission beyond handing out trophies. Though the ACMs are more of a pure awards show apparatus, their non profit arm did tons during the pandemic in helping to support out-of-work music professionals. There’s also over 50 years of history behind both the CMAs and ACMs.

Let’s be honest though, both the CMAs and the ACMs have a host of issues with their organizations from the awards on down too. But the CMT Awards are an exclusively fan-voted program of mostly meaningless awards that primarily have to do with videos. When a country star dies, nobody cites how many CMT Awards they won. The reason the CMAs and ACMs rarely telecast who wins “Video of the Year” is because it’s considered a secondary or tertiary award.

And of course on many awards shows, who actually wins often feels secondary to the performances and presentation, but even that has lost a lot of its appeal over time since social media and the internet has made artists so accessible to their fans. You no longer have to make sure you’re in front of a TV set at a certain time (something the younger generation is completely foreign to) to see your favorite artists, you can just catch the highlights the next day on YouTube. And more often than not, these awards shows don’t even feature your favorite artists.

Of course it makes sense for CBS to bring the CMTs to their network to “unlock synergies” and all that stuff. But make no mistake, in a world where awards shows continue to matter less and less, the CMT Awards, bless their heart, just barely matter at all, major network or not. Being on FOX didn’t help the now failed American Country Countdown Awards which only last two years. Though the CMTs are fine for what they are, they will never be a legitimate replacement for the ACM Awards. They will always be the 3rd country music awards show in an emerging popular culture environment where even two might be one or two too many.

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