Every year the ARIA Awards are described by the press as the local music scene’s “night of nights” — the chance for industry types to gather together in front of a national television audience and toast free booze. But, after the canning dished out by viewers last night, only the most hungover of music execs would be confident this morning of the continuing relevance of the annual industry knees-up.

In an attempt to spice up what has already become a faltering franchise, production house Fremantle Media opted to host the awards on the steps of the Sydney Opera House instead of inside an actual venue. Another change saw hosts and presenters surrounded by VIPs. As a result, the broadcast was marred by awkward cutaways, wooden presenters and terrible lighting/sound.

It didn’t take long for Twitter users to start venting their fury at the broadcast. Age music scribe Andrew Murfett labelled one particularly jarring moment as an “awkward new low”, while various other users described it as a “trainwreck”, “a joke” and “Australian television at its worst”.

As David Knox over at TV Tonight writes, with no stage to anchor the event the host, presenters and winners often resembled gatecrashers: “Last night the industry was left to wander around sipping a glass in the wind on the steps of the Opera House. Cheers for your year in music, guys. Have another bubbly.”

Marcus Teague, music editor of thevine.com.au, was also scathing, labelling it a “shockingly dislocated telecast” which did little to build any sense of occasion.

“As cameramen scrambled to find the latest presenter, who in turn were scrambling to find the latest winners, there was little sense of occasion amongst those milling about on screen,” he wrote. “[There is an] ever-growing, ominous sense that Channel 10’s flagrant Fremantle Media-isation of the televised awards may have sunk the stricken ship for good.”

The cringe didn’t stop at the ambitious production values. As is Australian award show tradition, Hollywood ‘stars’ were shipped in, with Carmen Electra and Modern Family cast member Eric Stonestreet expected to bring some glamour to the occasion. Even Bob Katter was in attendance, proving that just about anyone can get up to present an award, as long as they’ve got a big enough hat.

Fremantle Media’s ambitious production values didn’t translate to television audience numbers. Just 624,000 viewers tuned in to watch the 2010 awards, a figure well down on last year’s broadcast and a whopping 1.7 million under last week’s Packed To The Rafters — not exactly apples and apples, but a clear display of the declining interest in award show television. And even those figures were probably inflated by an audience keen to have a crack on Twitter.

The winners list, which reads like a roll call of Triple J alumni, was one part of the evening that seems to have been well received, with plenty of praise this morning for multiple statue winners Washington, Temper Trap, Angus and Julia Stone and Powderfinger

But, as has become the custom for many big-time entertainment awards events, the ARIAs came across as a TV show first and an industry celebration second. It makes you wonder how long they can continue to maintain their relevance amongst an audience already switching off from the traditional music industry power structure.