Hoffarth on the Media: How Will NBC Frame Its Olympics Coverage in 24 Years?

By Hoffarth, Tom | Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), August 25, 2016 | Go to article overview

Hoffarth on the Media: How Will NBC Frame Its Olympics Coverage in 24 Years?


Hoffarth, Tom, Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)


"Peacock should not be proud of coverage"

-- Headline from Aug. 14, 1992, Daily News sports media column.

Plenty of news becomes reshaped and reformatted in today's 24- hour news cycle.

But in a 24-year cycle of NBC Olympic production, much of it doesn't.

The first sports media column I was asked to do when arriving at the Daily News had to do with analysis of NBC's production of the 1992 Summer Games.

"Could NBC really be happy with the job it did in Barcelona?" I asked. "Of course. It achieved what it set out to do: Rack up ratings, make good on its promises to advertisers."

That week, the network boasted a 17.5 prime-time rating and 34 share. Ad people were stoked (if that was the right word at the time).

In a six-page press release NBC shoved out this week to size up the "exclusive and unprecedented" 2016 Summer Games coverage from Rio, you had to get to the middle of the third page to find that the national TV average rating was 14.4 with a 26 share -- the lowest since the 13.8 for the 2000 Games in far-away Sydney. That covers all 17 days.

And in exposing how poorly the audiences were for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies to bookend it, NBC extracted the ratings from competition-driven Saturday, Aug. 6, to Saturday, Aug. 20 and found the ratings were actually better: 14.8.

Los Angeles, which in 2012 was tied for 23rd with an 18.8 rating and 35 share, had the same ranking among the 56 metered markets with a dip to 15.7/31.

But that's not what made the thing that NBC was wanting to call "the most successful media event in history" (coming off the 2012 Games in London that were called "the most-watched television event in U.S. history.")

NBC's created a "total audience delivery" metrics that revealed an average of 27.5 million viewers tuned in each night during the Rio Games (versus the record 30.3 million for London).

Go back to the 1992 review: "Should NBC equate its ratings 'success' to the fact that people liked what they watched? Quality? Substance? Stop it. My sides are splitting now. This is America. You watch. You accept what's given you. You don't interpret.

"What NBC proved with this Olympics is that from now on, you get what you pay for. There was one Olympics here for the passive viewer. There was a much better one for the active consumer. If you had the foresight and financial resources to put in a TripleCast order for $125 plus change, you couldn't have felt cheated. Only cranky from the lack of sleep."

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Way back then, the TripleCast was offered as a new technological achievement alternative, three 24/7 channels that took raw feeds from various Olympic venues and put them on a pay tier. The cost was steep in those days -- as it might even be today -- so that only the die-hards bought it. NBC was worried too many viewers who saw everything live might cannibalize the prime-time taped coverage.

We had it and felt as if we inhaled every second.

NBC has only recently learned with the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games that viewers would not disappear, but actually increase, if allowed to see events live on the 21st-century cable channels that didn't exist back then, as well as on this crazy video stream on the Internet and smart phone apps that weren't even invented yet.

Thinking they found a glitch in the formula, NBC allowed live streaming and competing prime-time cable coverage to go up against its nightly 8 p.m.-to-midnight preferred viewing window. Maybe that accounts for some of the prime-time ratings drop. Probably not.

Maybe consumers are just kind of feeling their way around, broken down into those who are stuck with old habits and those blazing new trails.

To that point, NBC also sent out a release this week -- four pages -- that explained how "Millennials Devour The Rio Olympic Games" through video consumption across multiple screens, engagement on Google/YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat or grazing through social media. …

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