Fewer than 1 million viewers tuned in for the 2015 Miss USA pageant on Sunday, an all-time low, according to numbers released Tuesday by Nielsen, a leading provider of information on what consumers watch on television.
This year’s pageant on the Reelz network grabbed 925,000 viewers, an enormous 83 percent decrease from last year’s viewership, when the Baton Rouge-staged event aired on NBC. In 2014, 5.6 million viewers watched the pageant nationwide.
Nielsen’s numbers are based on an average number of viewers at any given point in time during the broadcast. Reelz released much larger viewership tallies, estimating as many as 2.5 million people watched. Those figures were based on “reach” numbers, or how many people watched the Miss USA broadcast for six minutes or more.
For the Miss USA organization, the viewership is about more than bragging rights, as Baton Rouge and state agencies have pledged $545,000 to the event. Whether the group will receive all of that money has been up in the air for weeks, following Miss USA owner Donald Trump’s comments about Mexico sending rapists and drug dealers to the United States. Those remarks, as well as others that followed, prompted NBC to drop the pageant and all of the original slate of judges, hosts and performers to back out of the production.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and officials with Visit Baton Rouge have warned they could hold back some of the funds their agencies have earmarked for Miss USA if they decide the exposure the state and city received this time around doesn’t measure up to what was originally expected. Whether they will follow through on those threats is still up in the air.
Miss USA representatives did not return requests for comment about the low viewership numbers.
Reelz CEO Stan E. Hubbard, whose cable network stepped in to air the pageant, emphasized that he was thrilled with the numbers, given the short time frame in which Miss USA lost its televised home and had to rebuild the event.
“It’s a major success story that got pulled together in 12 days,” he said.
Reelz used a different metric to count the viewers Nielsen reported, tallying those who watched the pageant for at least six minutes between a live telecast and a later encore presentation. Hubbard said the network counted both broadcasts because Reelz only has one national feed, which meant the pageant was airing at 8 p.m. Eastern time and 5 p.m. Pacific time.
He said they re-aired the pageant to give West Coast viewers the chance to watch it at 8 p.m. Of the viewers that Reelz reported, 79 percent watched the first broadcast and 21 percent watched the encore presentation.
Reelz reported that the pageant was the channel’s most viewed telecast of all time for women ages 18 to 34.
This year’s pageant also had an additional 37,874 viewers on YouTube, according to the entertainment and Hollywood-focused website The Wrap on Monday.
Viewership for the Miss USA pageant has been on the decline for decades. At its peak, the Miss USA pageant on CBS grabbed upward of 25 and 30 million eyeballs back in the 1970s and 1980s, according to Nielsen’s data.
The number of people tuning in to watch the pageant began its descent in the 1990s. Miss USA has not seen more than 13 million viewers since 2004.
The pageant had 6.2 million viewers in 2012 before dropping to its previous all-time low of 4.6 million viewers in 2013. The event ended up bouncing back a bit the following year, the first time it was filmed in Baton Rouge.
This was the first year since 2003 that NBC did not air the pageant.
While Dardenne expressed some concern about the fact that the pageant relocated from a major network to a much smaller cable channel, officials with the city of Baton Rouge have been less reserved about the $280,000 commitment to Miss USA.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden did not return a request for interviews on Tuesday, but has previously said he stands by his incentive agreement with the pageant organization.
Dardenne, who oversees a total of $65,000 worth of incentives offered to Miss USA from the Office of Tourism and Louisiana Seafood Board, said his office was still making a determination about their funding.
“We will certainly make a payment to the organization, but we haven’t yet decided what it will be,” he said Tuesday. “We’re going to safeguard the matter in which we spend money, but we also want to be reasonable and fair.”
He said he expected an announcement about their financial commitment next week.
Dardenne said officials were prepared to see the dramatic drop in viewership, since Reelz has a smaller audience than NBC, but he was pleased that it was picked up by the network.
He also said Trump’s dustup ironically generated some added national attention and interest in Baton Rouge and Louisiana, which has benefited the area.
“Overall, this has definitely been a big positive, and there’s no question about that,” Dardenne said. “It’s no surprise it was far less viewership than we had hoped for, but it was better than no telecast at all.”
Paul Arrigo, chief executive officer of Visit Baton Rouge, issued a statement Tuesday that did not address the viewership numbers. Visit Baton Rouge already paid $100,000 of the $200,000 in its contract with Miss USA, but Arrigo confirmed Tuesday that Visit Baton Rouge still had not paid $75,000 that was due by July 1, shortly after NBC dropped the pageant.
“The Miss USA contestants experienced a wonderful time in Baton Rouge,” Arrigo said. “They were blown away by our hospitality and all that we have to offer. A decision on the remaining $75,000 will be discussed by the Visit Baton Rouge board at a later date.”
The contract also called for Visit Baton Rouge to have $25,000 that could be spent on Miss USA expenses, but Arrigo said he didn’t yet know how much of those dollars had been used.
Miss USA could walk away with even more money because the organization applied for the state’s generous film tax credits program, which awarded the group $1.25 million in film tax credits after the 2014 pageant. The money Miss USA was awarded for 2014 was based on an audit that says it spent $4.2 million in Louisiana on last year’s pageant.
The state tax credit program reimburses movie and TV producers for 30 percent of what they spend filming in Louisiana in the form of tax credits.
When people apply for their project to receive film tax credits, they are required to have a national or international multimarket distribution plan, which could range from a television broadcast to an online stream. Chris Stelly, the head of the state’s film office, said Miss USA notified them of the change to their distribution plan when Reelz picked up the pageant. Miss USA will have to go through an audit before it will be in line for tax credits, but Stelly said they do not require a timeline for when the audit will be submitted.
Reelz reported that it reaches 70 million homes on AT&T, Direct TV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS, but not Cox Cable.
AT&T U-Verse customers needed an elevated package to watch Reelz. The channel is available for those with AT&T’s U300 package, which includes nearly every channel and premium channels, as well. It was not available for AT&T customers with the most basic U-family package or the U200 package, said Aaron Martinez, the Reelz public relations director.
Staff Writer Rebekah Allen contributed to this report.