Has Gen Y Lost Its Olympics Spirit?

A recent press release from The Nielsen Company dated Feb. 25 reported that television ratings among teenagers were 57% lower than the national average for this year's primetime Olympics broadcasts. Athens, we have a problem ...

The implications of an entire generation falling away from the Olympics movement would be disastrous. The movement represents all that is noble within humanity, inspiring nations around the world to lay down their weapons in order to compete with each other in sport every two years. If all that Neil Howe and Bill Strauss wrote about this special, achieving and globally oriented generation was true, then one would think that the Olympics would be extremely well suited to Gen Y.

While I'd imagine that not everyone has a research panel of 72,000 high school and college students in their hip pocket, we do. Our curiosity piqued by the Nielsen stats, our research team dug a little deeper into what Gen Y thinks of the Olympics and whether they paid any attention to what was going on in Vancouver last month.

From our findings, 71% of high school and a prodigious 86% of college students watched Olympics coverage of any kind, on any medium. Furthermore, slightly less than half of college students (48%) watched the opening ceremonies and slightly more than one-third of college students (35%) watched the closing ceremonies.

Measuring across TV, the Internet and mobile devices, we found what may be the key as to why Nielsen's ratings indicated that youth avoided the Winter Olympics but that our own research indicated otherwise. On average, college students consumed Olympics coverage on TV for eight out of the 16 days during which the Olympics were held.

However, if one factors into the equation that collegians consumed Olympics coverage via the Internet on six days and via mobile devices on two days, the picture becomes clearer: Gen Y is not abandoning the Olympics, rather, it is abandoning the medium that Nielsen measures best: broadcast television.

I'll admit that high school students' Olympics consumption wasn't quite as robust, reporting seven days of TV, five days of Internet and only one day of mobile consumption; however, it's clear that among both youth populations, TV represented half of the total Olympics coverage that was consumed.

Additionally, half (50%) of collegians and nearly a third (32%) of high school students watched streaming video of Olympics coverage via the Internet, while less than one in ten teens or collegians watched streaming video coverage of the Olympics on a mobile device.

We also asked youth to agree or disagree with a series of attitudinal statements regarding the Olympics, finding that more than three-quarters of youth disagreed either strongly (55%) or somewhat (23%) with the statement "I am turned off by seeing countries compete against each other," while more than two-thirds agreed either strongly (22%) or somewhat (46%) with the statement, "I like the sports that are played in the Winter Olympics." Gen Y remains a patriotic bunch, with nearly three-quarters agreeing either strongly (38%) or somewhat (35%) with the statement, "I am patriotic and love to see when the U.S. competes well and wins."

If there are any dark clouds on the horizon, they may be seen in the fact that more kids disagree (38%) than agree (27%) with the statement, "I can relate to the Olympics athletes." While Gen Y is currently scandal-scarred and fatigued from bearing witness to fallen heroes, inspiring youth to model themselves in the image of the Olympics athletes who represent dedication and the pursuit of excellence will be essential to the long-term health and welfare of the Olympics movement.

5 comments about "Has Gen Y Lost Its Olympics Spirit? ".
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  1. Carl LaFong, March 12, 2010 at 8:27 a.m.

    I would wager that if you looked at the number of minutes of streaming Olympic video viewed by young people, it would be less than 1% of the TV viewing total by that same group.

    Web viewing is not substantial enough to skew network ratings. Also, younger people have never been big viewers of the Olympic games.

  2. Michael Kaplan from Blue Sky Creative, March 12, 2010 at 12:03 p.m.

    With the quality of the NBC coverage -- the tape delays, the endless commercial interruptions, the cheezy way they cut off the closing ceremonies to premiere a Seinfeld-produced game show (!) -- is it any wonder people who have the wherewithal to abandon broadcast television for streaming media are doing so?

  3. Chris Vinson from Vinson Advertising, March 12, 2010 at 12:23 p.m.

    Great article. I would like to ad that many people will chose to watch the Olympics online due to lack of coverage of many sports on Network. And naturally teens are used to this format more that adults.

    Judo is a great example. In the last summer Olympics there was no noticeable coverage. Yet there are 30,000 judo practitioners in the United States. When you add the sports that are not covered together you find a huge number of viewers that would prefer to watch them over the mainstream sports.

    As viewing opportunities they are comfortable with become available, we should observe a shift in that direction.

  4. Ely Bonder from Emage-Media, March 12, 2010 at 12:48 p.m.

    All the more reason to reach out actively to youth on their terms and encourage a redefinition of what it means to be an Olympian. My non-profit and are challenging young people to find the Flame within themselves and dream about igniting it and keeping it alive: all through video and creative self expression.

    Our team hopes that this will help the Olympic movement to bridge the concept of achievement through sport and creating a passion in each young person to make their dreams come true.

  5. Catherine Piercy from Cossette, March 12, 2010 at 1:20 p.m.

    It would be more useful to compare youth viewership of the 2010 Olympics against youth viewship of previous winter Olympics (while at the same time, taking into account the general decline in youth TV viewing). Only then could you really tell if there is a "loss of Olympic spirit" or not.

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