Like a Tired Marathoner, NBC Struggles through Olympics Coverage

by Glenn Hower | Aug. 12, 2016

Long an advertising and ratings powerhouse for the Peacock, one of the hottest stories to come out of Rio is the decline in NBC viewership ratings for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. There are several reasons the Rio Olympics broadcasts are not resonating quite as highly with viewers:

  • Broadcast Delays – As has been the case in previous years, NBC delays some of its most popular events for primetime broadcast. This leads to the possibility of event results hitting the press or social media early, and viewers no longer needing to watch the broadcast.
  • Streaming – Despite saving its most popular events for primetime packaging, NBC still broadcasts events live over cable networks and through the NBC Sports app. According to a report from Deadline, viewers have streamed over one billion minutes of Olympic content, likely eating into NBC’s lucrative primetime viewership.
  • Early Controversy – Leading up to the games, political turmoil and medical concerns in Brazil raised questions of whether or not the games should even proceed. Additionally, the way that the International Olympic Committee handled a doping scandal of the Russian team tarnished the games before they even started.
  • Social Miscues – The Twitterverse is rife with anger related to NBC’s mishandling of several social issues. From alleged sexism in NBC commentator Dan Hicks identifying Katinka Hosszu’s husband and coach as the person responsible for her record breaking 400-meter medley swim, to alleged racism in the network’s decision to air Simone Manuel's medal ceremony on delay instead of live, social issues are at the forefront to a young and vocal segment of the viewership (note: Simone Manuel is the first African-American woman to win an individual swimming medal at the Olympics).


Articles such as this one from TechHive give users step-by-step instructions to watch Olympics coverage from BBC or CBC through a VPN in order to bypass the networks perceived “vapid” coverage, potentially escalating the switch not just from television to streaming. The proposal circumvents geographic licensing, leaving viewers completely unmonetized by NBC.

The ratings drop and shifts in viewing patterns are symptomatic of a fundamental problem with traditional television in the connected world. News and social media often report on events as they are taking place, putting broadcasters in the unenviable position of either airing events in less valuable mid-day slots or airing in the more lucrative but increasingly diluted primetime slots. The network is trying to be proactive in the digital space, posting highlights to YouTube and Facebook, even partnering with BuzzFeed to post video clips to Snapchat. However, the dissonance between network Olympic coverage and young viewers has seemingly never been so evident. Maybe this combination of factors is unique to these Rio Olympic Games, but 2016 just might be the inflection point that redefines how people consume large sporting events.

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