It’s hardly novel for NBC to tout the viewership for its Olympics coverage. But the network’s press briefing on August 11 — Day 6 of the Rio games — was notable for its confirmation of how streaming, mobile devices and social media are starting to transform a half-century of traditional television distribution and viewing practices.
Yes, linear broadcast still dominates the games viewing — although, through Day 5, it was actually down versus the last Olympics.
Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports Group, reported that the NBC broadcast coverage through Day 5 averaged a 15.6 rating and garnered a 29 share. Meaning that “nearly one-third of televisions in use have been tuned to NBC in prime time,” he stressed.
However, while Rio’s 28.6 million average audience through Day 5 was indeed “the highest-rated prime-time series since the London Olympics,” as Lazarus pointed out, it was still more than 20% lower than the 36.5 million average for the London games, reported The New York Times.
Lazarus also emphasized that 17% of adults watching the games in prime time have been 18- to 34-year-olds, versus 10% of adults watching prime-time programming over the course of the 2015-2016 television season, adding: “This young audience is a large reason that our digital numbers are way up.”
But the 18- to 34- prime-time viewership for NBC broadcast-only was down by about 30% versus London.
Total Audience Delivery
The results are a mixed bag for NBCUniversal, which is using its newly developed Total Audience Delivery (TAD) tool for the Rio games. TAD enables measuring average minute viewership across broadcast, cable and digital streaming platforms in order to produce a “Nielsen-like metric,” in the words of NBCU president of research and media development Alan Wurtzel.
And those metrics are indicating that much of broadcast’s loss is being countered by gains in cable — NBCU’s Bravo and NBCSN networks, in particular — and, to a smaller extent, by the online streaming option.
The Rio Olympics are the first to offer U.S. prime-time coverage on channels other than the primary broadcast network, as well as the first to stream the broadcast network coverage, including prime time, simultaneously on digital platforms.
NBC Olympics coverage on other channels plus digital streaming lifted prime-time viewership by at least 7% each night through Day 5, NBCU stressed in its stats release.
For instance, on Saturday, August 6, NBC’s broadcast-only prime-time viewership was 20.6 million, but total or TAD viewership was 14% higher, at 23.5 million.
However, on Tuesday night, the total average audience of 36.1 million — 2.7 million for cable-plus-streaming, added to the broadcast’s 33.4 million — was still 5 million below the comparable night in London (when there was no simultaneous cable and streaming), reported The Times. Cable accounted for 2.3 million viewers, while about 404,000 were streaming live video and earlier events.
During Thursday’s press briefing, Lazarus said that, thus far, there was no reason to have to offer make-goods to advertisers. He said that while broadcast was down “a little bit,” the increases in cable and streaming were mitigating the difference.
“That’s what we’re selling and that’s why advertisers want to buy the Olympics,” he added. “Yes, they want to get us in the range of what we promised them by piece, but it’s really the mix of assets and getting in front of the Olympic audience.” He also said that NBC built some extra inventory into marketer plans “to make sure we deliver what we’ve promised them.”
While the streaming stats are modest in comparison with broadcast and cable, the industry will naturally be closely watching that factor.
1 Billion Live-Streaming
Minutes Through Day 5
In total, NBC will offer an eye-popping 4,500 hours of Olympics coverage online. As of Day 5, it had surpassed 1 billion live-streaming minutes: an Olympics record, and significantly larger than the streaming for the entire London Olympics. “Our numbers will top the streaming for all Olympics combined in just a few days,” Lazarus told the press.
Further, digital viewing is being boosted through social media — not just organically but also via original content that NBC itself is creating with BuzzFeed and Snapchat.
The deliberately open, cross-platform strategy for these Olympics came, in part, as the result of NBCU research showing that rather than hurting prime-time viewing (and threatening lucrative broadcast advertising), day streaming would likely serve to help boost prime-time viewership by getting people sharing about the athletes’ feats during the day, Wurtzel told the Times earlier this month.
If the actual results aren’t totally bearing that out thus far, the strategy nevertheless seems to jibe with the inescapable reality of shifting consumer viewing habits.
“We programmed to the opportunity that came before us,” summed up Lazarus in the press briefing. “We programmed where consumer behavior is growing. We programmed marketing plans [in line with marketers’] desire to intersect with customers in different ways.”
The approach has resulted in record advertising revenue and profits for NBCU, including $1.2 billion sold across all platforms prior to the games, and another $30 million since they began, according to the company.
Queried during the briefing on the viewership to date, Lazarus emphasized: “If we weren’t confident in fulfilling our obligations, we wouldn’t have been in the market selling another $30 million in the last six days.”
Still, all of that said, the effects of new platforms, devices and audience viewing on linear broadcast viewing are still very much playing out.
Indeed, on Wednesday, both Lazarus and Wurtzel acknowledged to The Times that they were somewhat surprised by the broadcast, cable and online Olympics viewership patterns thus far.
“The Olympics are not immune to the tectonic changes in consumer media behavior,” observed Wurtzel.