Now that the games in Rio are complete, there's a lot of talk about viewership, millennials and NBC Universal. The network paid $12 billion for exclusive rights to broadcast the event in the U.S. through 2032, counting on the fact that live sports would keep it competitive in the age of over-the-top content. Unfortunately, NBC executives might need to alter their expectations. Television ratings for the games dropped 17 percent overall compared to London, Bloomberg reported. The decline among viewers ages 18 to 49 was even more drastic - 25 percent. Steve Burke, NBCUniversal CEO, described the possibility of such a drop as a nightmare back in June.
"We wake up someday and the ratings are down 20 percent," he said at a conference, according to Bloomberg. "If that happens, my prediction would be that millennials had been in a Facebook bubble or a Snapchat bubble and the Olympics have come, and they didn't know it."
"NBC admitted many millennials streamed the games."
That's not exactly what happened. Millennials were certainly online during the event, but they weren't distracted by social media. According to The Wall Street Journal, NBC itself admitted streaming contributed significantly to overall views, and half of online viewers were under 35. In addition, the total number of minutes viewers spent watching the games Rio online - nearly 1.9 billion - eclipsed the numbers seen in London and Sochi combined, according the L.A. Times. Still, increase in online viewers wasn't enough to make up for the decrease in traditional TV ratings.
Letting customers watch how they want
Millennials are often blamed when it comes to major changes in culture, but some think NBC itself is at fault. TechDirt said the broadcast company's refusal to give customers what they truly wanted resulted in so much frustration that people simply didn't watch the sporting event. The content itself was littered with commercial breaks, and viewers needed an NBC subscription to stream the games online. In an age where people have access to countless ad-free shows and movies for $10 per month or can pick and choose the clips they want on YouTube, it's unlikely they'll sign up for a cable subscription just to watch one event.
Simply put, NBC and other companies need to provide opportunities for customers to watch video in ways they want if they hope to see high viewership ratings in the future. If not, people will simply satisfy themselves by catching the highlights on news websites and social media.