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March 6, 2018
olympic rings

Olympics Viewership: The Real Story

The Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics ratings were down from Sochi in 2014, but are we missing the bigger picture?

By now, you have seen the headlines in industry as they relate to the 2018 Winter Olympics – “Ratings Down,” “All Time Low,” “Least-Watched Winter Olympics in History.” These are all accurate. But are we missing the bigger picture?

TV Viewing has been changing consistently for at least the last twenty years. That’s nothing new. Maybe it was the release of TiVo in the late 1990s that jump-started the trend. Maybe it was the introduction of Netflex and Hulu’s streaming capabilities in 2007. Regardless, it is no surprise that the industry has become so fragmented when there are so many options available to the consumer. Hundreds of networks, thousands of programs, time-shifted viewing capabilities, subscription streaming services, connected TVs, long-form content on YouTube and Facebook. You get the idea. Traditional TV ratings are declining and trying to reach the right audience isn’t as easy as it used to be. So it’s no surprise that ratings for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics are down from Sochi in 2014.

What may be the more important headline is that the ability to reach so many viewers across the country with one event in the fragmented landscape of 2018 is a big deal! Outside of the Super Bowl, the only program that came close in 2017 was Sunday Night Football with an average of 18.5 million viewers nationally. The Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics coverage averaged 19.8 million viewers, surpassing FOX, CBS, and ABC combined by an average of 82%. That is the largest advantage for any Winter Games. “In today’s media environment, to average approximately 20 million viewers over 18 nights — which is essentially the number of hours for a full season of three prime-time shows — is a tremendous accomplishment,” Mark Lazarus, chairperson of the NBC Sports Group, said in a statement. “When compared to the competition, we were more dominant than any Winter Games ever.”

What’s more is that NBC Sports Digital live streamed 1.85 billion minutes of coverage from Pyeongchang. That total is more than triple what was streamed for Sochi is 2014. And, according to Mark Lazarus, almost 90 percent of Winter Olympics ad buys were purchased across all platforms, so advertisers were adjusting their media buys for fragmented viewing.

Despite the ratings being at an “all time low,” ad sales were at an all-time high. Prior to beginning coverage of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, NBC had already surpassed $900 million in national ad sales. That’s a Winter Games record. Moreover, with the anticipation of the ratings decline on behalf of the network, rating estimates were accurate enough to avoid filling unsold inventory with make-goods and under-delivery schedules. That means NBC was able to continue selling throughout the entirety of the games, ending with more than $920 million in national ad sales.

Sure, viewership was down 7-17% depending on how you pull the numbers, but with the widening gap between Olympics viewership and the rest of the networks, incredible strides in streaming numbers, and unprecedented ad sales, there is no denying that the broadcasting of the games will continue to be profitable for NBC and a huge reach play for national advertisers. It looks like we will continue to watch USA athletes compete for the gold for many Olympic Games to come – just maybe not in the same numbers or same way that we have been.