Beijing Olympics Post Lowest Ratings Ever
Written by: Stephanie Bariatti, SMB Media Marketing Consultant
In the United States, the linear TV ratings for the Beijing Winter Olympics were far less than gold medal winning. In fact, the 2022 games, which took place in February, saw the smallest prime-time audience for any Winter Olympics on record.
An average of 10.7 million watched the games in prime time on NBC. If you throw in streaming and digital platforms, the number was 11.4 million. This marks the lowest point in the trend of declining numbers over the past few Olympics. The Pyeongchang Games in 2018 reported 19.8 million viewers, which at that time was the lowest viewership for any Winter Olympics. And just 6 months ago, the Tokyo Games averaged 15.5 million viewers in primetime making it the lowest rated Summer Games of all time. For comparison, about 112 million people watched the Super Bowl on February 13. And not surprisingly, the Olympics hit its best primetime ratings that evening with 21.2 million viewers, following NBC’s Super Bowl broadcast.
NBC certainly felt the struggle with the Beijing Games. NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua said, “This was probably the most difficult Olympics of all time.” He said to make up for the meager audience, advertisers were given additional commercial time. “They were made whole throughout the entire Olympics,” Bevacqua said of advertisers. The company said it made roughly $1.8 billion in revenue for the Tokyo Games, but it stayed quiet on whether it turned a profit. It is widely expected that the Beijing Games also won’t turn a profit.
Of course, Covid could be to blame for a large part of the lackluster telecasts. Little to no crowds in the stands at the games made for a less enjoyable viewing experience. In addition, NBC announcers called the games from studios in Stamford, Connecticut. Bevacqua said, “We had 1,600 people in Stamford and 600 people in Beijing. Normally that would be flipped for us.”
But there were other factors besides Covid. There was the time difference between the US and China, negative feelings about China hosting the games because of its human rights reputation and the doping scandal in the women’s figure skating competition. Plus, these games seemed devoid of elite star power.
However, we are not really getting the full picture. It’s not all bad news.
Audiences (especially younger viewers) are increasingly using different screens and platforms to watch video content. As a result, the linear TV ratings for the Beijing Olympics and other programs (excluding the NFL) have declined precipitously with an audience primarily of older viewers. Also, the continued adoption of viewers to multiple screens brings to light the need to improve audience measurement across every screen and on every device. This has been a primary issue for advertisers and programmers over the past year.
Since the Olympics is now a multiplatform programming event, NBC Universal continues to make the Games available on several video outlets. Most notably was Peacock, which live streamed all 109 Olympic events and provided 2,800+ hours of overall coverage. In turn, Peacock had its best 18-day span of usage during the Olympics. NBCU said viewers had streamed 4.3 billion minutes on Peacock, NBC Sports Digital and several social media platforms, a significant increase from 2018 (Peacock was launched in 2020).
In addition, NBCU’s average minute streaming audience in primetime was 516,000 viewers, best for any Olympics. In total streaming, viewership grew by 78% from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Bevacqua commented, “With sharply increased signups, usage and awareness, Peacock streamed every Olympic moment for the first time ever and delivered a user experience that was greatly enhanced from just six months ago.”
In actuality, the cumulative audience of the Beijing Olympics was 160 million persons watching the Olympics across NBCU video platforms.
Now, enter iSpot.TV, a potential replacement for Nielsen. Under a new agreement announced last month, NBCU said they would be undertaking a “test and learn” phase with iSpot.TV for the Olympics and other programs. Clearly there is a need for a new method of measurement. Nielsen has been the standard for so long, but its methods may be outdated in this new era, though the company does say they are planning revisions.
While Nielsen currently uses a 41,000 household panel, iSpot.TV said their audience data derives from a sample of 39 million smart television sets (from six OEMs) and 12 million set top boxes from two providers. iSpot.TV currently has a reportable audience sample of 17.1 million homes and increasing. Similar to other ad tech and audience measurement providers, iSpot.TV has partnerships to access individual person level viewing and other data points.
iSpot.TV also reports they have direct integrations with 300+ streaming platforms. In addition, they track and verify ads across 160 networks and streaming providers using a catalog of 1.5 million ads that has been expanding by about 6,000 each week. So their reporting might prove to be a much more accurate tool for platforms and advertisers.
From an advertising standpoint, the Olympics might look very different over the next decade. Nielsen, Comscore, Kantar and other measurement companies will be stepping up their game in order to compete with the likes of iSpot.TV and other similar entities. It’s also important to remember, the Beijing Games was the first of six Olympics NBCU had negotiated back in 2014. The overall package cost $7.75 billion or $1.3 billion per Olympiad. Heading into the Beijing games NBCU had cut their ratings forecast by about 50%. If the Tokyo and Beijing Games are any indication, by the time NBCUs current contract expires with the 2032 Summer Games from Brisbane, Australia, the way most people watch the Olympics will be significantly different than it was in 2014. Maybe we will have a better gauge of who is watching and a better way to tell if public interest is truly waning or not.
Stephanie Bariatti works as a Consultant and Project Manager for SMB Media Consulting. She has had extensive experience with many facets of advertising and media, having worked for and with creative agencies, production companies and research departments. She lives in New York with her wonderful husband, three lovable little boys and a snuggly Golden Retriever.
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