Despite appearances by Pink - who performed a her single 'Blow Me (One Last Kiss)' - Rihanna and One Direction, only an estimated 6.1m people watched Thursday night's (September 6) coverage of the show - a more than 50% drop in total viewers from last year's 12.4m.
Among the reasons cited for the disappointing figures are the movement of the ceremony from its usual Sunday evening slot to a weekday, which put the broadcast in direct conflict with President Obama's planned speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC).
Just two days before its coverage of the awards aired, MTV announced that the ceremony would move up one hour to avoid the clash, airing from 8pm to 10pm ET.
Despite the move, the show still experienced tough competition across cable networks, with news channels airing hours of DNC coverage.
Many of the stars credited with pulling in the ratings in previous years were also absent from the show.
Lady GaGa, who helped draw in record audiences with her appearance last year, watched and live-tweeted the awards from her hotel room.
The singer - who did not receive any nominations - decided not to attend the ceremony, despite enjoying some downtime during the European leg of her 'Born This Way Ball' tour.
Britney Spears, whose performances and appearances have become synonymous with the VMAs, also failed to attend. The star, who is currently filming The X Factor USA has been a regular performer and guest since the late '90s and is largely credited for having drawn in audiences in the target 12-34 demographic in the past.
Prior to this year's broadcast, viewing figures for the VMAs had been steadily rising, with MTV enjoying its largest audience in a decade for the event in 2010.