It was not a triumphant comeback for Fashion Rocks. The TV event, which spotlights the intersection of the fashion and music industries, returned to CBS on Tuesday night and only drew 2.4 million viewers, a 0.6 share rating among 18- to 49-year-olds, according to Nielsen Media Research.
That's less than half the size of the audience that tuned in to the last Fashion Rocks telecast in 2008 (5.242 million viewers), and quite a bit behind NBC's Tuesday night time-slot winner America's Got Talent, which drew 9.37 million viewers.
At first glance, such low numbers seem surprising. The event was hosted by the omnipresent Ryan Seacrest, featured performances by of-the-moment artists like Jennifer Lopez, Magic! and Nicki Minaj (the latter two have songs in the top 10 this week) and appropriately took place during New York Fashion Week. It even included a surprise appearance from Justin Bieber, who stripped down to his Calvin Klein underwear while being rowdily booed by the crowd in Brooklyn's Barclays Center.
But even that couldn't stir things up: The event still registered behind FX's weekly show Sons of Anarchy on Nielsen's Twitter TV ratings chart for Tuesday evening, with around 128,000 show-specific tweets.
There are a few reasons the event failed to make bigger waves. Aside from the aforementioned A-listers, many of the performances were lackluster. Afrojack looked goofy standing behind his turntables twisting knobs with one hand, and Nico & Vinz felt unexciting and off-key. There was also very little fashion. Models occasionally walked the runway, but clothes and brands were never mentioned. Only two designers, Tommy Hilfiger and John Varvatos, appeared onstage, though Bieber's strip-down seemed to be a plug for sponsor Calvin Klein. Other official sponsors included Mazda, AOL, Cumulus, L'Oreal, Macy's and Verizon.
And then there's the fact that the event is historically tied to the publishing industry, which looks very different today than it did even a half-decade ago. In 2008, the last year Fashion Rocks was on the air, ad pages fell a steep 11.7 percent at consumer magazines in the wake of the economic recession, to 220,812. Conditions have only worsened in the years since, with consumer titles reporting a 4.4 percent decline in ad pages in 2013, to 145,700, according to MPA -- the Association of Magazine Media, though fashion titles like Vogue and InStyle still outperform industry trends.
Fashion Rocks and its sister special Movies Rock, which is due to air in December, are the work of Richard Beckman, who was a publisher of multiple Conde Nast magazines and most recently headed Prometheus Global Media (which owns Billboard) before founding Three Lions Entertainment last year. In the past, the telecasts were preempted by special issue magazines that ran in various Conde Nast publications. This year's arrangement bundles special issues with InStyle and Entertainment Weekly, both Time Inc. properties.
Beckman has long been a champion of "event television," or special programs like awards shows or major series finales that are actively discussed on social media. While at Prometheus, he was involved in the revival of the Billboard Music Awards. Thanks in part to Twitter, event television is known to draw larger audiences and wield more pop-cultural impact than run-of-the-mill programming. For reference, January's Grammy Awards drew a record social media audience of 34 million interactions.
A CBS spokesperson did not respond to a request to confirm whether Movies Rock was still on track to air in December. Beckman did not respond to requests for comment, with a spokeswoman telling Billboard the Three Lions Entertainment office was closed for the day.