Don’t blame millennials, new viewing habits or any other outside force for the sharp decline–17 percent to be exact–in Olympic ratings. The onus is on NBC and only NBC.
It’s not as if NBC wasn’t aware that viewing habits had changed or that millennials existed before making plans to tape delay some of the biggest events of the games or strictly enforce social media blackouts. If you want the biggest reasons for a 25 percent ratings decline among the 18-49 demographic, look no further.
Some have said that tape delay had no tangible effect on ratings by pointing out that ratings were best in the western and mountain time zones–where the tape delay was most severe. However, we don’t have a metric for the people who didn’t watch because of tape delay. If we did, it would probably tell a different story, one similar to the one told across social media. Additionally, we shouldn’t forget that there was tape delay in the eastern and central time zones as well, even if it wasn’t as bad. Speaking anecdotally, I didn’t watch any of the gymnastics as it aired on NBC because I had either already watched Simone Biles win gold live, online, or I knew what had happened thanks to social media.
In addition to tape delay, NBC also completely failed to realize the negative effects that suppressing highlights on social media and other outlets would have. It probably wouldn’t have hurt NBC if ESPN had been able to show highlights from the Olympics. If you read a website like Deadspin, you would have noticed that essentially none of their posts about the Olympics featured videos thanks to NBC’s insane policies. On the rare occasion that one did, the video wouldn’t play unless it was viewed on YouTube, which drives down viewership and interest.
The biggest social media moment of the Olympics was Michael Phelps’ stone cold death stare. The biggest reason for it being so much bigger on Twitter than just about anything else was because people could share the picture without fear of getting their accounts banned. The 2016 Olympics would have been the Social Media Olympics if NBC had played things right. Instead, it was the exact opposite, with things like a horse dancing to Santana’s ‘Smooth’, making little headway because people didn’t share the video on Twitter.
Because NBC failed to capitalize on social media and failed to air things as they happened, the ratings flopped. Let’s hope they don’t to the same thing in 2018.