NBC fights controversy in China and volatile viewers in an attempt to win Olympic glory

It would be hard to imagine more difficult Olympics than last summer’s Games in Tokyo for NBC, the American television network.

Among his headaches were the double-digit difference in time with the US market, the sterile experience of television sporting events without the applause of crowds and the long-term trend of declining audience interest in the event. The result was a 40% drop in audience in prime time compared to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

But the Beijing Olympics, which opened on Friday, will present the same challenges, and last but not least, the dispute over the holding of the Games in China amid widespread fears of human rights abuses against the Uighur population. Xinjiang.

“It’s going to be worse,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst at research firm Moffett Nathanson. “You have all the problems you had in Tokyo. . . and the brutal geopolitical background of human rights violations, which undoubtedly undermine the festive nature of what is supposed to be the Olympics.

NBCUniversal invests heavily in the Games. The Comcast-owned company owns U.S. rights to the 1988 Summer Olympics, a lucrative franchise that has grossed billions of dollars in advertising over the years.

In 2014, he renewed his deal with the International Olympic Committee and paid $ 7.75 billion for exclusive broadcasting rights in the United States from 2022 to 2032, a contract that was signed before a decision was made on where the events would take place.

But there are concerns about the value of these rights amid a decline in traditional television viewing habits.

NBC’s success is based in part on the strategy of the “entire network”, which included a steady increase in interest in the Olympics by profiling athletes in the morning show or covering the Games in its news networks. Until the start of the Olympics, audiences were invested in athletes and their personal stories. But this has become more difficult as viewers’ interest has shifted from traditional television to streaming services, social media or video games.

“There is a bigger problem with the gestalt that weighs on the Olympics in general,” Moffett said. “The hype machine, which has been promoting stories of human interest for generations that make the Olympics fascinating, requires regular television viewing. It’s just gone because people don’t watch so much linear TV. ”

Despite disappointing ratings, the Tokyo Olympics still grossed $ 1.8 billion in advertising revenue.

While marketing executives said brands are more cautious about associating with the Beijing Games, NBC said it has attracted nearly 100 advertisers – roughly the same as it did at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea – including 40 new advertisers. It also says that the average level of spending has risen “slightly” since four years ago.

One of NBC’s goals is to use the Olympics to attract more viewers to its streaming service, Peacock, which was criticized during the Tokyo Olympics for contributing to a confusing viewing experience. NBC executives say they have improved the navigation service’s navigation features and that ad revenue is higher.

“Our digital revenue has double-digit, which is really just an indication of how the Games are being consumed more and more across multiple platforms,” ​​said Dan Lowinger, executive vice president of advertising sales at NBC Sports.

Uighurs in Turkey call for boycott of Beijing Olympics © REUTERS

While live TV shows such as the Olympics, Oscars and Grammys are declining, NBC is optimistic that it could take advantage of the rare opportunity for two major events to take place at the same time this year.

On February 13, it will broadcast the Super Bowl, which is expected to take advantage of the jump in ratings – and give the network a chance to cross-promote the Beijing Olympics.

NBC said it has sold more than 70 commercials for $ 6.5 million for the Super Bowl, the biggest game in American football. The network expects viewers to reach more than 100 million, compared to last year’s 14-year low of 96 million.

“There’s nothing bigger than the two biggest media events together at NBC Sports – the Super Bowl and the Olympics – taking place on the same day and on the same network,” said Jenny Storms, NBC’s chief marketing officer. for sports.

Moffett said the Super Bowl could provide a boost for Olympic spectators, but noted that the Winter Games usually attract a smaller audience than the Summer Games. “Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against them,” he said. “The awkward time zone means that viewers will have seen the results on social media before the broadcast. And there is also the fatigue of the Olympics so close to the Summer Olympics. ”

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