TV viewership of the 2016 Olympics was down 21% compared with four years ago, across all nights of coverage. It was expected that ratings would drop against London four years ago, but in fact Rio was the least watched summer Olympics since the Sydney games in 2000.
We reviewed ratings data during the event, but now that it is complete, comparisons can be made
with total viewership across previous summer Olympics based on data from The Nielsen Co.
(See Streaming Wins At Olympics
Rio Olympics Least Viewed Since 2000 (On TV)
Source: NBC/The Nielsen Company
Yet streaming numbers were at an all-time high. One hundred million unique users in the US, up 29% from the previous Olympics, viewed 3.3 billion streamed minutes of video. This was more than twice the total of all streaming minutes for the previous Olympics combined.
In part, the reason is that NBC Universal
invested heavily in its online distribution, streaming 4,500 hours this year, compared with 3,500 hours during the London Olympics. But it is also, of course, the impact of a growing trend towards online video consumption. Viewership was also driven in part by the convenience of on-demand viewing: nearly 20% of streamed viewing comprised replays and highlights.
Still, total viewership, even with broadcast, cable and streaming added together, was down 10% for Rio. And this was despite Rio being in a far more convenient time zone.
And yet NBC executives were able to price and package their inventory to deliver higher revenue despite falling ratings. NBC called Rio the most "economically successful games in history,"
having sold $1.2 billion in advertising and anticipated profits exceeding the London games, which came in at $120 billion. Reports also suggest that digital inventory was priced higher than TV, which will help NBC's revenue picture.
This represents a conundrum for advertisers: should they prioritize streaming or more traditional channels for their advertising?
One important advantage streaming has is that social marketing can help drive online viewership more effectively than offline viewing. Recent research
from Nielsen Social found the Olympics provided the top seven TV shows mentioned on Twitter Inc.
last week. Olympics coverage on August 19 ranked highest, with 4,459,000 uniques (defined by Nielsen as "unique social media accounts that have authored original content related to a linear TV episode or engaged with that content"), and was closely followed by coverage throughout the week. A UFC fight and two NFL games ranked eighth, ninth and tenth for the week.
TV may also be benefiting from social promotion, but streaming is more likely to benefit directly since potential viewers can link directly from social promotion to the coverage.
Online or "digital" advertising is also growing, with a recent report
from analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffetNathanson saying that it gained share against TV. He found that digital advertising grew 27% in the second quarter, 1.7% more than Q1. TV ad growth meanwhile, was 3.1%, which was one percentage point below his forecast. Even though digital video isn't necessarily growing directly at the expense of TV, TV has lost 3.5% share of spending to digital. He estimates that TV spending will rise 6.6% in 2016, but then decline 3.7% in 2017. However, I would imagine that is likely to be influenced significantly by the Olympics and elections being held in 2016.
Overall I think the Olympics just represent the ongoing transition and uncertainty the industry is facing. OTT is growing, pay-TV is shrinking. OTT also offers more targetability and better user interfaces, search, navigation and recommendations. It can be linked and promoted via social media and delivered on-demand to a variety of devices.
But pay-TV still dominates household usage and time spent by miles. That large-screen, high-resolution, "lean-back" experience is still of great importance to viewers. And there is no medium that quite matches the "interruptibility" TV offers, according to media buyers. The simplicity and low-tech appeal of TV also shouldn't be ignored. (See Consumers Struggle With New Technology, Finds Telenor
For the foreseeable future then, advertisers will have to hedge their bets and make sure they are present on all platforms. Perhaps those that are targeting only young viewers can choose to go all-OTT, but for larger audiences they will need to factor in TV advertising.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation