Impressive Streaming Figures Give NBC Olympics Optimism for the Future

Despite double-digit TV ratings decline

The Games of the XXXI Olympiad were memorable for a variety of reasons. From Bolt to Biles, Phelps, Felix and, yes, even Lochte, Rio 2016 introduced and reintroduced viewers to many of sports' most compelling figures.

But NBC's coverage of the games delivered less than stellar TV ratings. According to Nielsen Media Research, prime-time coverage of Rio 2016 delivered an average nightly audience of 24.5 million live-plus-same-day viewers across 17 nights, a 21 percent decline from the 2012 London Olympics' prime-time average of 31.1 million. The network also delivered a 14.5 household rating, which represents a 17 percent decline from 2012's 17.5 and was far below "the high teens" NBCUniversal promised advertisers.

With changing viewing habits and more livestreamed events than ever, NBC came up with a customized metric called Total Audience Delivery, which calculates average minutes of viewing across broadcast, cable and digital. The average boost to prime time was 7 percent, which still didn't provide advertisers with a high-teens household rating.

Still, NBC is expected to walk away from Rio having made good on all $1.26 billion in ad sales within 17 days of the games. "NBC had made it a priority to set aside enough inventory to fully deliver each advertiser's campaign within the games so as not to carry underdelivery into the NFL season," said Brandon Levine, vp, group director of media at DigitasLBi.

Levine said both NBC and its clients will take the lessons learned in Brazil to South Korea, Japan and China, the host countries of the next three Winter and Summer Olympics. 

"While I see the Olympics still successfully attracting significant investment in four years, what will change is the way it is invested," Levine said. "By 2020, digital content will be more easily accessible and will become even more important given the time difference with Asia."

Livestreaming and the use of digital platforms was and will continue to be a big theme for NBC going forward, particularly when it comes to targeting millennials. Nearly 50 million viewers streamed 3.4 billion minutes of NBC's Rio coverage on web, mobile and connected devices, with more than half of those viewers under 35, NBC's research found. 

Despite the decline in linear TV ratings, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus declared Rio 2016 "the most successful media event in history." 

"By putting events—for the first time ever in prime time—on NBCSN, Bravo and at times USA Network, as well as streaming prime time in pattern, we learned a lot about consumption habits and attracted new audiences," Lazarus said in a statement. "We'll use all of the data from all of our platforms to develop our plans for Pyeongchang in 2018 and Tokyo in 2020."