A Look At The ‘People’s Choice Country Awards’

This article also appears in the 2023 MusicRow Awards issue, published earlier this month.

A Look At The ‘People’s Choice Country Awards’

NBCUniversal is bringing a new party to Nashville with the premiere of the People’s Choice Country Awards. Airing live on NBC and Peacock from the Grand Ole Opry House on Thursday, Sept. 28, this expansion of the People’s Choice Awards brand will be one of country music’s only fan-voted awards shows.

The original People’s Choice Awards program launched in 1975 with producer and creator Bob Stivers at the helm. The program aired annually on CBS with a ceremony in January to celebrate the previous year of pop culture. In the early years, Gallup polling determined the results of the categories. Prior to 1982’s Country/Western Musical Performer award, the Awards did not have an accolade specifically for country music.

For the 31st Awards in 2005, the franchise moved to an online voting system, allowing fans to cast 25 votes per day per category. Then, in 2018, the NBCUniversal-owned E! Entertainment Network became the new home for the 44th Awards ceremony, and the annual date moved to November in celebration of pop culture from each current year.

As the annual categories continued to evolve, they awarded wins for Favorite Country Performer, Favorite Male and Female Country Artist, and, most recently, Country Artist of the Year. Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton and Taylor Swift are multi-award winners across the country-specific categories, as well as the general music categories such as Favorite Male or Favorite Female Musical Performer.

The 47th annual ceremony in 2021 aired live simultaneously on E! and NBC, ushering in a new era and shifting towards a December slot. With the 49th People’s Choice Awards already scheduled, NBCUniversal turns their eyes to expanding in a new direction—country music.

Pictured: Cassandra Tryon. Photo: Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Cassandra Tryon, the Senior Vice President of Entertainment Live Events, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, led a team in revamping the People’s Choice Awards, and expanding the franchise to launch the upcoming People’s Choice Country Awards.

“The People’s Choice Awards [awarded] in movies, TV, social media categories, comedy, sports, etc. and music is just one component, but it is always the most voted—and country [is represented] through that,” she says. “We’ve had an overwhelming response. That gave us the first hint that this was a good extension for us.”

Tryon shares with MusicRow that after NBCUniversal acquired the rights to the People’s Choice Awards back in 2017 and aired their first show on E! in 2018, its evolution has been a journey of

“We really tore it down to the studs and rebuilt it. It’s an awards show that’s been around since the ‘70s and was ready for a refresh, in our minds,” Tryon shares. “At the heart of it was ‘how do we best represent the voice of the fans?’

“[The People’s Choice Country Awards are] really a celebration of music with country at its heart,” she explains about the new special, adding that the team took a fan-focused approach as they created the show, from the crafting of the lineup to the voting procedures to the event itself.

“It’s about reflecting on the biggest moments in country music of the year. So, so many artists have had such incredible years, tours, songs and albums, so it’s really about ‘what is the best celebration of that music and how many performances can we pick?”

To get to the heart of one of the most anticipated new events in country music this year, the People’s Choice Country Awards narrows in on various sources throughout the media landscape. To keep the nominees as recent and relevant as possible, the PCCAs limits its eligibility year to each calendar year.

“We have a proprietary system that ingests data from sources like Spotify and Billboard, and all the usual sources like social media, etc., so when we announce the nominees, we know they’re truly reflective of what the fans are consuming and talking about in country music.”

Previously, NBCUniversal announced that the Grammy Award-winning group, Little Big Town, will be hosts for the inaugural show as well as featured performers leading the impressive lineup. They will present the night’s honors to the first class of People’s Choice Country Awards winners.

“The lineup is about the best celebration, and what the fans want to see as they celebrate the year in country music,” Tryon notes. While careful not to give away any more details about the performers for the evening, she was able to provide more insight into the award categories slated for celebration.

“Our big fan-voted category is the People’s Artist. That is the ultimate fan-voted award that covers every category. We have the Male Artist, Female Artist, the New Artist, the Duo/Group, the Song, the Album, the Collaboration Song, the Crossover Song, the Music Video, the Concert/Tour and the Social Country Star [of 2023 awards].”

She adds, “I would say Social Country Star and Crossover Song are probably the most unique and different categories than we’re used to from some of the other award shows out there. It’s really trying to celebrate the best in country music, including new artists and up-and-comers.”

The Social Country Star category is a new nod to the rising trend of artists using their social media platforms to actively engage with fans. This category will reflect the country stars that not only have the biggest followings, but also have high fan engagement rates.

Given the growing popularity of country artists collaborating with musicians from various genres, two categories reflect the trend and specifically highlight those efforts. “We feel like this is a great opportunity to showcase the genre-blending collaborations that are out there,” Tryon says.

“We have a category that is Collaboration Song, which is two country artists coming together, but the Crossover Song is a country artist collaborating with an artist from another genre. Even in our categories, we’re really trying to be not just your traditional country awards show.”

Beyond the named categories, the People’s Choice Country Awards will also extend honors to a chosen few of the genre’s leaders through special award recognition.

“The Country Icon is Toby Keith. Blake Shelton will be presenting him with that award, as well as a Country Champion, [Wynonna].”

While these categories are set for this first show, the future list of categories is flexible. Tryon says evolution is natural for an awards show—changes occur often to reflect the industry landscape and cater to the fans.

“We always tweak the categories every year or two. We want to keep everything as relevant as possible.”

In the same vein as the Social Country Star award, this new show is leaning into the elevated levels of social media interaction with fans and viewers in anticipation of the show. Given that this program will air on NBC network television, with streaming on their OTT platform Peacock, Tryon understands that other segments of the audience may tune in elsewhere.

Using the past tactics from the People’s Choice Awards and the shift to engage more with online communities in the past years, the People’s Choice Country Awards is adopting a multi-platform approach from the onset.

“Over the years, we’ve really tried to make it a full, 360 experience for our fans, whether they’re tuning into a livestream on Peacock or one of our social networks, or they’re viewing clips of performances and acceptance speeches,” Tryon says.

Fans’ online engagement with their favorite nominees fuels the social media success for this Awards show. Now that the PCCAs have announced this year’s nominees in all categories, they welcome and encourage artists to promote voting to their audiences.

Tryon says, “So many of the artists that [we nominate] have such big fandoms and are in great touch with their fans. There’s a steady drumbeat of social activity that really starts with voting and goes all the way through the night of the show and beyond.”

The shimmering night of the event will spotlight an elegant red-carpet walk-in for all the evening’s biggest stars. The People’s Choice Country Awards will use their social media platforms to cover the on carpet interviews, an exclusive pre-show and the ceremony with peeks at the stars behind-the-scenes.

The new Awards launched its first voting window on Aug. 16 with another change from the original show. Where past People’s Choice Awards ballots have allotted voters 25 votes per category per day, new changes going forward reflect a recent increase in fan voting.

“We have such an overwhelming response to voting that we just [do not] need it anymore. We’ve moved to one vote per category per day.” Tryon assures that this will be more than enough, as she notes the previous 25-vote limit became unwieldy.

People’s Choice Country Awards will still retain the Turbo Voting day where each vote cast will count twice towards the nominee. The races may be close until the very end of voting, especially in this inaugural selection.

“Anything can happen with the People’s Choice Country Awards. With the voting, there’s always surprises. It’s truly all about the fans. I think it’s going to be quite a rabid voting fanbase.

“We have such a great fandom of country fans across NBC with our The Voice audience and with Sunday Night Football,” Tryon explains. This vibrancy in viewership led them to program the Awards for a slot in late September.

“We wanted to put this one in a place where it could live for a long time. We thought September, in the landscape of other country music awards that are out there, was good timing. And also, on our own air because it aligns with [NBCUniversal’s] fall premiere week and premiere schedule, as well as Sunday Night Football.”

She adds, “This also gives us the premiere of primetime shows. The Voice—with Reba [as a coach]—is a big country tie-in. [There are] lots of great opportunities there within our network and keeping it [before] the big holiday window that kicks in for us in the November timeframe.”

With Carrie Underwood kicking off another year of Sunday Night Football, Blake Shelton’s longstanding run that ended this year as a coach on The Voice and now with Reba McEntire and Dan + Shay slated to coach upcoming seasons, country music fans consistently tune into NBC programming during the fall.

“We felt like it would give it the biggest marketing platform and align with a lot of great, related programming that’s out on our networks,” Tryon shares. “We wanted to give it the biggest push we could and secure that home for it now, and for the future as well.”

This fan-focused event also brings business benefits as it highlights a new partnership. The inaugural show marks a major iteration of the investment partnership between Atairos, NBCUniversal and the OEG Attractions Holdings LLC, which owns the assets that comprise Opry Entertainment Group under Ryman Hospitality Properties. Going forward, the goal is to strengthen fans’ connection to the music and become a major player in the country lifestyle, live entertainment and media content fields.

“It’s a partnership that actually goes beyond live events and specials, across our whole portfolio of brands. This is really the ideal show to kick it off—it’s a long-term investment.”

Tyron adds, “The Opry is the heart and soul of country, and such an iconic venue, so we couldn’t be prouder to be partnering and hosting the show there. We do plan to make it the venue—country artists have such reverence for being at the Opry. We very much want to make it a part of our show.”

On Sept. 28, as the artists gather to receive new awards and glamorously celebrate a wonderful year of country music, fans are welcome to join the night’s fun at the Grand Ole Opry.

“We want this show to really be inclusive, like a fun party in Nashville,” says Tryon. The inaugural People’s Choice Country Awards invites country music’s biggest fans to celebrate the stars they helped create.

About Shauna "WhiskeyChick" Castorena

Shauna "WhiskeyChick" Castorena is a freelance writer for both Country Music News and Country Music On Tour. Want to collab on some content? Email me. Want my rates for commercial promo work outside of music? Get them right here.