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Poor Olympic Ratings and What They Mean for You

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The grand spectacle of the sporting world — the Olympics — has, after a year of delay and confusing information, come and gone. But now broadcasting giant NBC finds itself in a pickle. Ratings, the basis of all television advertising, have been on a steady decline with many advertisers putting their hope (and dollars) into one of the world’s biggest sporting event, only to be met with disappointing results. What does it mean if even the Olympics can’t pull in the ratings?

What happened to NBC’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics ratings?

NBC had grand plans, paying more than $1 billion for the rights to run over 7,000 hours of Olympic coverage. They’ve now found themselves having to create make-good offers to advertisers because of the much smaller-than-estimated TV viewing audience, averaging just 16.8 million nightly viewers compared to the 29 million average for the 2016 Rio Olympics five years ago.

Much of the criticism and complaints this year came from confusion about how NBC showcased events since there was such a wide variety of options to choose from. They aired on a mix of channels and digital options on broadcast, a multitude of cable networks,, the NBC Sports app, and their new streaming service, Peacock. So much confusion came that they even had election night specialist Steve Kornacki help viewers navigate the viewing options.

A second factor was the 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and the majority of the United States. The games were happening, winners were being announced and awarded their gold, silver, and bronze medals while the majority of Americans were fast asleep. They woke up to a plethora of notifications of breaking news stories of the results. This caused the excitement and anxiety that sports bring to be taken away. This wasn’t helped by the absence or early exits of big-name athletes that NBC tried to promote as the stars of the show.

So does no one care about the Olympics anymore?

While everything so far might seem negative and disappointing, and you might even have asked yourself, “where did all the viewers go and how are advertisers supposed to reach consumers now?” The Olympics still dominated primetime television, beating out all other networks for those timeslots.

The world and the United States were digitally engaged more than ever during the Olympics. Our mobile phones and constant connection to world events, however, are suspected to have hurt TV ratings. Streaming on Peacock and NBC’s Olympics website throughout the day was up 24% compared to Rio in 2016. Showing us again and again that appointment television is fading, with streaming is at an all-time high. Google trends showed us searches were being dominated by the Olympics and viewers were still watching, just now on their own time.

One of the biggest success stories came from the hot and rising social media app, TikTok, on which the official NBC Olympics channel shot up over 348% from the start of the opening ceremony. Athletes making their own videos accumulated millions of views over the past weeks with some of the most popular viral videos being behind the scenes — places TV cameras can’t physically go.

What does all this mean for advertisers?

The steady decline of appointment TV and the rise of streaming and new social apps aren’t new trends. We’ve been watching this change in consumer habits over the last decade. Traditional mass media is now turning into niche media. Allowing advertisers to get more specific with who they’re targeting.

As we welcome the new streaming services and mobile applications that seem to appear every day, we needn’t forget that even though ratings are declining across TV and other traditional tactics, they’re still the dominant media forms. As a whole, the consumption of media is continuing to grow. It’s just more important now than ever for advertisers to not get complacent on only relying on mass media.

If you’d like to talk about your existing media tactics, and how you can tap into other non-traditional forms, give us a call. We Do That.

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Ed Sharp

Ed brings 15 years of traditional and digital media sales experience to the agency, giving us a perspective most agencies don’t have. When he’s not working or seeking new knowledge, Ed hangs out with his wife, two kids, two dogs, one cat, and a hamster. And yes, the cat and hamster are best friends.

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