NBC Trying to Save a Tough Olympics

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At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, ​​there was the Dream Team. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing had Michael Phelps medal screening. There is an epidemic at the Tokyo Olympics.

This has been the biggest challenge for NBCUniversal, the company that paid more than $1 billion to run 7,000 hours of game coverage on two broadcast networks, six cable channels, and a new broadcast platform, Peacock.

The ratings were a disappointment, with 16.8 million viewers averaging overnight through Tuesday, a massive drop from the 29 million viewers who attended on the same day of 2016’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. NBCUniversal offered to make up for the smaller-than-expected. By giving free advertisements to some companies that bought commercial time during the games, he told the television audience that he would hold talks on the condition that the names of four people with information on the subject remain anonymous.

NS opening ceremony set a moody tone. Instead of the usual competition of athletes smiling and waving to the crowd, there was a procession of participants marching through an empty Tokyo Olympic Stadium, most of them wearing masks to protect themselves against the spread of Covid-19 as a new variant raged. The morning live broadcast and prime-time replay received the lowest ratings for an opening ceremony in 33 years, with just under 17 million viewers. The highest came on Sunday, July 25, when just over 20 million people watched.

“You can only play the hand that was dealt to you and they were dealt a hard hand,” said Bob Costas. 24 years It hosted NBC’s top Olympics before leaving the network in 2017. “You can’t create something out of air. We hope everyone knows this is a unique Olympics.”

“It’s like someone is running 100 meters and there’s a weight on their ankles,” Mr. Costas continued. “This is not a fair judge of their speed.”

A pervasive change in viewing habits, from traditional TV to streaming platforms, has been a huge factor in the number of people watching. Although NBC’s prime-time audience has shrunk significantly compared to the Rio games five years ago, Olympic broadcasts still bring in far more viewers than even the most popular entertainment shows. The latest episode of “Big Brother,” a ratings leader on CBS, attracted less than four million viewers.

“We were a little unlucky—there was a drum of negativity,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said on a conference call by NBC’s parent company Comcast last week. second quarter earnings. Less atmosphere than festive, he added, “caused linear ratings to likely be less than we expected.”

Still, Mr. Shell said he expects the Tokyo games to be profitable, with ad sales exceeding the cost of coverage. Total ad sales for the Tokyo games will be higher than for the Rio Olympics, a spokesperson for NBCUniversal said on Thursday.

The absence or early exit of popular athletes at some events, including gymnast Simone Biles, runner Sha’Carri Richardson, tennis champion Naomi Osaka and basketball star LeBron James, further dampened expectations. And as a constant reminder of the coronavirus, on-air reporters were masked while staying away from the athletes.

Most of the reviews were scorching, and there were complaints about a complex schedule that made it difficult for viewers to find the events they wanted to watch. Critics also found fault with the thicket of distracting split-screen commercials on the main NBC broadcast.

“We return to the Olympics as an escape as this fun, exhilarating experience and there have definitely been moments like this,” said Jen Chaney. television critic for the Vulture. “But more than anything, watching this year has shown the scars we’ve dealt with.”

Ms. Chaney recorded NBC’s interview with American swimmer Caeleb Dressel just after she won the gold medal in a men’s 100m freestyle glamor event. tear up eyesMr Dressel said: “It’s been a really tough year. It was really difficult.”

The 13-hour time zone difference between Tokyo and the East Coast may have also played a role in the decline in prime-time viewers. Many people in the United States are waking up to phone alerts trumpeting the medal winners who will be on that night’s broadcast.

The strongest narratives from competition, such as that of American gymnast Sunisa Lee all-round win – He seemed to be getting attention not so much on TV but in snippets shared on social media. This trend is evident in the follower count of the NBCUniversal Olympic channel on TikTok, which has increased 348 percent since its opening ceremony.

Those who decide to watch must choose from a range of channels and digital options. In addition to NBC, coverage spans NBC Sports Network, CNBC, USA Network, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel, Spanish-language Universo and Telemundo channels, as well as NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app, and Peacock.

There are so many options that NBC’s “Today” program brings. Steve Kornacki, the political reporter best known for explaining the election results, to break it all down. “If you’re a badminton fan, you’re going to call NBCSN,” he told the audience. “If you’re a fan of archery, USA Network. There are all kinds of different possibilities!”

As Netflix and other streaming platforms began to break the dominance of traditional TV, coverage of live events was something networks could count on to deliver massive audiences. But even blockbuster events like the NBA Finals, World Series, and the Oscars have had a dip in ratings lately.

“The days of mass media appointment tracking are dwindling like the Super Bowl,” said Brad Adgate, a media analyst. “If you want to look at the Olympics with a pessimistic eye, it’s not what it used to be.”

The Olympics coverage is headed by NBCUniversal executive Molly Solomon, who was elected head of NBC Olympics Production in 2019, a few months before the 2020 games were postponed.

“The Olympics are the most complex sporting event in the world,” he said in an interview Thursday. “The epidemic has added a layer of complexity.”

Ms. Solomon leads a team of more than 3,000 people, of which 1,600 are in Tokyo and 1,700 in the USA. the roar of a volleyball announcer, the shouts of runners during flag changes).

The production team also includes footage of home viewing parties to capture the cries and shouts of friends and family members of the medal winners’ homes; mini-sections that require significant advanced footwork.

Ms. Solomon, who has worked on the Olympics since she started on NBC in 1990, said: “It’s been a different experience for the audience, and we tried to improve that in light of the fact that there were no fans here.” as a researcher for the network to cover the Barcelona games.

Before the takeover, NBCUniversal’s coverage of the Olympics Jim BellTokyo strayed from planning in 2018 when the company brought him to head the movie “The Tonight Show Starring Starring Jimmy Fallon.” He left the show and NBC a year later.

Ms. Solomon said she woke up at 4:30 am in Tokyo and relied on double-shot lattes to get through workdays that could last until 11 am.

“Every day new stars are born and new stories come to the fore,” he said. “So, personally, I don’t want it to end.”

In the view of Mr. Costas, who guided viewers in coverage of NBC’s Olympics from 1992 to 2016, any comparison of the Tokyo games to previous competitions is unfair, given the shadow cast by the pandemic. And three years from now, if all goes according to plan, NBCUniversal will have plenty to do in Paris again.

“Paris 2024 will hopefully be like a classic Olympic situation, fingers crossed,” he said. “This will be a more legitimate test.”

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