In previous Olympic windows, people in countries on every continent gathered their families in front of the television to watch their “hometown” athletes compete in exciting events like snowboarding, ice skating, and skeleton. It was the definition of appointment television. As a result, ratings were king.
Fast forward to 2018. The market is saturated with options for television viewing and the must-see TV events are fewer and further between. Traditional viewership of the games is down. Big time down. Ratings are at a low that has not been seen since 1992 according to Sports Media Watch. Despite this slow down in viewership, the ratings for the winter competitions still beat out those of the other major sporting events in the same time slots. The NBA All-Star Game and the Daytona 500 pulled lower numbers even still. So the Olympics still wins overall, but not in the way it is used to.
Ratings conversations surrounding this year’s Olympics broadcast have been a source of some debate even in light of all of this information. The games of “yesteryear” that we referred to initially in this post didn’t provide the public with as many viewing options. The broadcasts are no longer on just NBC. Cable and streaming sources provide endless opportunities for curious at-home fans to tune in at a moment’s notice, and to the specific event that peaks their interest. Curling is gaining viewership and who even remembers that being broadcast in their youth? NBC Sports Digital delivered 11.6 million unique visitors for live content according to Fox News, and that’s up 174% from the Sochi games just a few years ago. These facts make the overall ratings and audience composition come into question, and have been a source of discussion among media buyers and planners across the nation and world.
In spite of it all, NBC Universal is still going to turn a profit on the $1 billion that they spent to broadcast the games from PyeongChang. Advertising dollars remain strong throughout the games as well, across all broadcasting medias. So maybe the ratings decline isn’t a big deal after all? Maybe it’s all in stride with the overall conversation that the industry is having regarding traditional television viewership? Either way, it’s interesting and drawing attention…just like those curlers.