It could be a tough next six years for NBC Olympics, with the next three Games — two Winter Olympics and one Summer Games — all in Asia.
The New York Times notes that prime-time ratings for the just completed Rio Games were lower than expected, while the move to Asia will factor in additional problems such as a 13-hour to 14-hour time difference between the host cities and New York.
Undaunted, NBC is declaring the Rio Olympics “the most successful media event in history,” as we reported separately. But The Times poses the critical question of whether the falloff in viewership for Rio was a fluke … or a sign of further trouble ahead.
“The answer, for now, is unknown, as NBC prepares for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing (which hosted the Summer Olympics eight years ago),” The Times notes. “No one is certain how much further consumers will alter their media habits, how much further television viewing will be diminished, or what new technologies will emerge during that time.”
Said Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG Research: “You’d be a lot less concerned if you were in the United States or in Continental Europe. Ninety percent of the content from Asia will be happening when we’re asleep — and when we wake up we’ll see our Twitter feeds and news stories telling us what has already happened.”
NBC had counted on a favorable time zone in Rio to boost prime time. “NBC thought that the greater number of live prime-time broadcasts from Rio would produce audiences larger than those amassed for London four years ago,” The Times notes. “But at 25.4 million, NBC’s broadcast audience fell 18 percent from the 31 million that watched the London Games. It added 2.1 million more viewers from live streaming and Olympic events on the NBCSN and Bravo cable networks. In all, the three sources of viewership did not combine to match London’s broadcast-only performance.”
Said Greenfield: “Television is in a secular decline.” He adds that the increasing embrace of the binge-watching model makes NBC’s prime-time Olympics model, which forces viewers to wait for their favorite sport to come on, less palatable.
“Still, even with decreased viewership, NBC dominated prime time during the Rio Games and boosted 18- to 34-year-old viewership on other company programming like the ‘Today’ show, ‘NBC Nightly News,’ ‘Access Hollywood’ and late local newscasts,” The Times reports. “In addition, 3.3 billion minutes of Olympic events, replays and highlights were streamed on NBC’s Olympic website and the NBC Sports app.”
The report quotes Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports Group, in a statement about past Summer Olympics on NBC, saying: “The Olympics are the only events of its kind, dominating prime time for 17 straight nights, 118 Summer Olympic nights in a row.”