IOC defends NBC: The Olympic Winter Games appeal is growing
By Callum Murray
The International Olympic Committee today defended NBC, its US broadcast partner, against reports that NBC’s coverage of the recently-completed PyeongChang 2018 winter Olympic Games is set for the lowest US ratings ever for the games.
The IOC told Sportcal: “Regarding the US specifically, the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 helped NBC become the most watched network for the first time since 2002, and the most dominant Winter Games on record compared to other US networks.
“In fact, Sochi and PyeongChang helped NBC Olympics become the top rated programme on 18 out of 18 nights, compared to 14 out of 17 for Vancouver [the 2010 winter Olympics] (which had a better time zone for USA) and eight out of 17 nights for Torino [2006 games]. This demonstrates that when compared to overall viewing across networks, the Olympic Winter Games appeal is growing. NBC also set Winter Games records on digital platforms for total and live streaming minutes."
The IOC was responding to the news that NBC averaged 20.6 million viewers across all platforms, down approximately 8 per cent from the Sochi 2014 average of 22.4 million.
Moreover, unlike the PyeongChang edition, the Sochi games did not have the benefit of airing on NBC Sports Network, the cable sports channel, as well as on the main NBC network, nor of simultaneous digital streaming.
In the coveted 18-to-49 demographic, NBC viewing was down 24 per cent compared with Sochi, although that figure is reduced to 15 per cent when viewers from NBCSN are included. It must also be remembered that this year's games took place in a highly unfavourable time zone.
The IOC added: “Globally, there was more coverage (14 per cent up on Sochi) than ever before for an Olympic Winter Games across all platforms. Whilst we are only just beginning the process of analyzing all the data from over 200 territories, early indications show that the biggest growth is seen on digital, and in this regard Olympic viewership reflects the broader trend across all sports and entertainment properties.”
NBC itself chose to place the onus on its performance versus rival US networks, not versus previous editions of the games, claiming in a post-games statement that, with an average of over 20 million primetime viewers over 18 nights, the games helped “solidify NBC as most-watched network for first time since 2002.”
PyeongChang, NBC said, was the “most dominant winter games on record,” in terms of its viewing figures, with the NBC-only primetime viewership beating average figures from the combined rival broadcast networks by 82 per cent.
NBC said: “The PyeongChang Olympics helped solidify NBC’s rank as #1 in total viewers at any point during the TV season for the first time since it won the 2001-02 crown 16 years ago, according to Nielsen.
“NBC Olympics averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of nearly 20 million viewers in primetime over 18 nights, according to Nielsen and Adobe Analytics.”
Ranked against its rivals, NBC said that it has: been number one on 74 consecutive Olympics nights (including coverage of previous editions of the games); exceeded the combined viewership of ABC, CBS and FOX on 35 consecutive Olympic nights; and ‘won 438’ consecutive Olympic half hours in primetime.
Moreover, for a fourth successive edition, the games were profitable for NBC, it said, with advertising revenues expected to reach $940 million, an increase on the $800 million that NBC brought in for Sochi 2014. The Rio 2016 summer games set a record Olympic profit of $250 million for NBC.
Mark Lazarus, the NBC Sports Group chairman, said last week that the network expected viewership for the winter Olympics to drop, in line with the decline across most TV platforms, and offered lower guarantees to advertisers.
Lazarus said: “We are successful against every important measurement. Viewers came in droves across all dayparts and platforms, our advertisers are all delivered, and our affiliate and distribution partners are extremely happy.”
Meanwhile, NBC Sports Network, NBC’s cable sports channel which shared coverage of the games with its parent, is on track to deliver its most-watched month ever for February, with a total day viewership average of 768,000 viewers until 25 February. NBCSN is also on track to be the most-watched sports cable network in February, NBC said.
Online, NBC Sports Digital streamed a total of 2.17 billion minutes of coverage, more than tripling the figure for Sochi 2014. NBC added that, on 21 February, “more than 525,000 uniques watched the live stream of the U.S.-Canada women’s gold medal game – which began after 11 p.m. ET – to rank as NBC Sports Digital’s fifth-largest hockey audience ever, beating all NHL, IIHF, and college hockey games, and trailing only four high-profile games from the Sochi Olympics in more favorable time periods.”
Steve Nuttall, the sports media consultant who previously worked for Sky and YouTube, told Sportcal: “In the US, as in many other markets, all age groups are watching less TV this year than they did last. The five-year declines in viewing trends reported by Nielsen are in the region of 15 to 45 per cent, with the sharpest reductions being for viewers under 24.
“Ironically, given that context, a reduction of only 8 per cent in NBC’s ratings [compared with Sochi 2014] is likely not a bad performance. However, it illustrates a more fundamental and systemic trend that should concern all sports and demonstrates how hard broadcasters now have to work to engage audiences.”
NBC holds the rights to the Olympics until 2032 having extended its commitment in a 12-year, $7.65-billion deal that comes into effect after the Tokyo 2020 summer games.
The next winter Olympics are in Beijing in 2022.