Back in 2011, and again in 2014, NBC shelled out an unbelievable amount of money — a total of nearly $12 billion dollars — to host TV coverage of the Olympics for years to come. But after Pyeongchang, where Olympic viewership fell to an all-time low, it looks like the “peacock” may have made one of television history’s worst investments.
According to CNN, viewership “for the current Olympics on NBC is down 24% compared to Sochi among viewers aged 18-49, the age demographic most coveted by advertisers,” and even the Opening Ceremonies, which are typically the Games’ biggest draw, were down more than 8% in viewership from the same event in Sochi.
Hollywood media-watcher Deadline reports that in some cases NBC experienced double-digit drops compared to just four years ago. Eleven percent fewer people watched NBC’s coverage overall, but an average of 29% fewer viewers watched per day as compared to the same Olympic days in 2012.
Part of the problem, CNN contends is that NBC appears to have failed to notice that people enjoy watching their Olympics live and without additional content. Instead of tuning in to NBC’s prime time coverage of the events, viewers preferred to watch their Olympic content online; 13.9 million unique viewers used NBC’s digital live stream to get their Olympics fix.
It also didn’t help that the United States had an un-naturally poor performance in 2016 Games, and that, because of a time difference with Korea, most Olympic events took place while American viewers were asleep.
The only exception to NBC’s abysmal Olympic coverage came during Friday’s landmark U.S. victory in men’s curling: the network posted one of it’s best overnight ratings gets ever, as people tuned in to watch America win gold in the obscure sport between 1:30 and 3:00 a.m. EST.
Instead of maximizing the effectiveness of their live coverage, though, NBC maximized return on investment for advertisers. The athlete profiles and commercial tie-ins happen because NBC has sold millions in advertising and “retransmission fees” to corporate sponsors, so that, even as viewership declines, the network stands to make a potential six-digit Olympic profit.
That profit, though, hinges on whether NBC attracted the right number of viewers to satisfy their contracts with advertisers. If they didn’t (and things look a bit dire), NBC will have to offer “make good” apologies to companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, and give them free advertising on other shows that have better ratings — and possibly reconsider their coverage strategy for the next Olympic Games.