NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Country Music Association received the exposure and the higher New York TV rating it was looking for when it moved its awards show to the Big Apple, but it lost some viewers in the nation's storm-battered heartland.
The 39th Annual CMA Awards, which aired live on CBS on Nov. 15, improved its ratings sharply in New York (5.4 compared with 4.2 last year — a 29 percent jump).
The ratings also increased in Boston (6.9 from 6.0) and Baltimore (10.4 from 8.4), according to figures provided by CBS.
The ratings numbers reflect the percentage of households in that particular market that tuned in to the show. Tulsa, Okla., and Nashville had the highest ratings at 21.9.
While this year's show did better in New York, ratings slipped in two other large Northeast markets: Philadelphia (from 9.5 to 8.9) and Washington (from 8.3 to 7.9).
Overall, CBS reported that 36 million viewers watched all or part of the three-hour awards show — down from 37 million last year and 40 million in 2003.
That number shows how many tuned in for at least a few minutes. The more indicative figure, according to CBS, is the average number of viewers, which this year was about 17.73 million.
Last year, average viewership was 18.45 million.
The Country Music Association points out that even with the dip, the show still led its competition. The CMA also blamed forces of nature beyond its control.
"The biggest thing that made the difference from last year was the weather system in the middle of the country," CMA Executive Director Ed Benson said Tuesday.
"A string of tornados hit right at show time. Nashville was down 22 percent. Cincinnati was down 13 percent. There was no increase in Louisville, Ky., and Indianapolis, where we thought we would have gained ground."
In Nashville and some other cities, part of the broadcast was pre-empted by storm coverage.
New Orleans, which finished seventh best in ratings last year with 15.9, didn't even show up on this year's ranking of the Top 55 because of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Benson also cited increased competition from TV shows "House" and "Commander in Chief" and a softer promotional push this year from CBS, which is losing the CMA awards to ABC in 2006.
"When you take all these things into account, it was very fortuitous to be in New York because the increases in those New York corridor markets where there are lots of people and Nielsen ratings households helped offset the other things," Benson said.
The CMA estimated that doing the show in New York would cost a little more than double what it would in Nashville, where it's been held since 1967 and where it returns next year for its 40th anniversary. Benson said Tuesday that the budget projection appears right on.
He declined to discuss dollar amounts but said New York City, which sought the event, agreed to cover about 70 percent of the additional cost. Increased revenue from ticket sales at the much larger Madison Square Garden plus more corporate sponsorships made the move a break-even venture, he said.
"Clearly, it was a great value," said Brian Philips, general manager of Country Music Television and a member of the CMA board of directors. "By no means were we the people who came in from Tennessee and got fleeced. We made great deals."
Philips and other industry leaders said having the show in New York brought invaluable exposure to the music, even if some of coverage played up the novelty of a musical form with small town roots coming to the big city. During the weeklong buildup, country singers were all over TV and in national publications.
"What the CMA did was bring the awards to the place where the press and the advertising community were rather than try to bring the press and the advertising community to Nashville," said Ed Salamon, executive director of the trade group Country Radio Broadcasters.
Salamon, a former New Yorker, hopes the move will continue to pay off residually through media exposure, concert bookings and product endorsements.
Benson hopes for two other things as well: a generous boost in music sales and a full-time country radio station in New York City — the only market besides San Francisco without one.
The sales bump is almost a given. Last year, the Billboard top 75 country albums chart had a 166 percent weekly increase after the show aired, according to the CMA.
Getting the country radio station will be more difficult. It's been three years since New York has had one, and people in the industry say the absence makes it difficult to promote concerts there and get exposure for all but the biggest-name artists.
"We will start to work on a strategy," Benson said. "We have an idea of what we can do and now is the time to strike after so much attention up there."