The Olympics have Fallen

“I really believe this is going to be the most meaningful Olympics of our lifetime,” an NBC Olympics executive producer stated during a conference call leading up to the renowned Games. "After everything the world has gone through, I do think that people are craving the shared experience. What better way to come together than through the stories of these athletes?”

Most Olympics over the years have attempted to sell a package of hope and global unity, but NBC was also seeking to make these games a symbol of the end of the global pandemic, marking a return to normality and a triumph of the human spirit and resilience after an incredibly difficult year – which is a decent sales strategy and perhaps necessary given the overall cost of what the network is paying for the rights to televise the Olympic Games from 2014-2032. 

Nevertheless, the network’s proposed storyline had a small problem – cases of the coronavirus have been rising in Japan (the location of the current Games) and worldwide, and opposition to the Games on the ground in Tokyo and throughout Japan was severely stronger than anticipated by NBCUniversal and the Olympics Committee. Once they announced that there would be no regular fans allowed at the games, the television broadcast and presentation also became significantly more difficult to pull off as well

As a result, the 2020 turned 2021 Olympics, thus far, might suggest that NBC may have thought too much of the countries - and the worlds - taste for the Olympics and its pageantry. The overly optimistic sales pitch and projections that NBC gave have ended up present a very rigid dichotomy with early ratings data, which show that the current Tokyo Games have been one of the lowest rated Olympics in recent history throughout the Western Hemisphere. 

NBC’s primetime audience has averaged 14.5 million viewers throughout the Olympics and plummeted a full 48% when compared to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and 58% from London in 2012. NBC saw its smallest primetime audience of Olympic Games in Tokyo recently when only 11.7 million people tuned in. 

“We’ve had some bad luck,” NBCUniversal executives admitted during a call with investors in which they stated that the ratings did not meet their high expectations. “There was a drumbeat of negativity, and that has resulted in linear ratings being probably less than we expected.”

It is also worth noting, however, that the number of homes with cable TV or satellite subscriptions has fallen drastically over the years, and there is also a significant time difference with Tokyo which may prevent many individuals from watching and could put many desirable events on tape delay during its original prime time viewing. The numbers could also be skewed as NBC has been showing many events on its streaming service, Peacock – with streaming services growing in popularity.

There is no doubt about it, there have been a number of very special and classic moments these Olympics, but there also seems to be a serious disconnect between the narrative NBC has wanted to sell us and the realities of these Games and the world we actually find ourselves in. 

NBC has been making an attempt to woo its frustrated advertisers though by offering them ad inventory on their digital broadcasts to give them a chance to reach more viewers. There have also rumors that NBC could potentially offer some of its advertisers’ spots on Sunday Night Football this coming NFL season in an attempt to make up for the lagging Olympic ratings this year.