The results are in, and the Tokyo Summer Games are the lowest-drawing Olympics since they began airing on NBC in 1988.
In fairness, a decline was expected, as these were the first Olympics since 2008 to be in a “bad” timezone for U.S. viewing, as well as cord-cutting having taken 9.5 million viewers out of the ecosystem since 2016. The strategic decision to push viewing on Peacock to spark use of the service would also eat into TV viewership, but the decline — down 42% from Rio 2016 — was greater than anticipated.
VIP partnered with leading insights firm Maru to probe into what viewers thought of the Summer Games as a TV experience and anticipate the long-term impact on the appeal of the Olympics.
Maru’s data found almost 3 in 10 adults aged 18-54 either didn’t watch at all who said they usually would or watched less than usual for the Tokyo Games. This increases to 4 in 10 of those aged 55+. Removing the third or so who have no interest in the Olympics at all sees 45% of available 18-34s reducing or stopping viewership, 42% of 35-54s and 61% of those 55+ with negative viewership trends.
In short: A large swath of the available audience either somewhat or totally lost interest in watching this year.
The lack of fans in arenas and stadiums in Tokyo had a negative impact on interest, just as it did on domestic sports viewership in 2020. That is something NBC would have known to be coming once the decision was made to ban attendance due to the pandemic, but it might not have anticipated 40% of regular Olympics viewers aged 18-34 would say it hurt their interest and engagement with the event.
Something that wasn’t anticipated was gymnastics star Simone Biles’ withdrawal from several events. This hit interest in the Games hardest among the 18-34 audience segment, with 2 in 5 saying her withdrawals reduced interest. The 55+ cohort was also impacted, with over one-fifth saying their interest was impacted.
Analysis of the proportion of viewers saying they enjoyed the Tokyo Games more than normal versus less than normal shows an interesting generational difference. The proportion of 18-34s saying they enjoyed it more versus less was the same at 22% — i.e., net neutral.
But the older one is, the more negative the net effect becomes, as 35-54s are 1.5x more likely to say they enjoyed Tokyo less than enjoyed it more, while this pales in comparison to those 55 and older. Those in the oldest cohort in our analysis are 3.8x more likely to say they didn’t like these Games as much versus saying they enjoyed them more.
This has a knock-on effect when assessing interest in watching future Games. Younger viewers are 2.7x more likely to say they’re more interested in future Olympics based on this year’s tournament. By contrast, 35-54s are slightly more likely to have a net positive impact in future interest (1.1x more likely), and 55 and over have seen their interest sour this time around. They are 2.9x less likely to say they’re more interested in future events.
Given that these are the folks most likely to have traditional TV, this presents an issue for NBC’s future coverage, or at least its ad rates. Based on the advertising make-goods NBCUniversal had to give advertisers in these Games, advertisers will be unwilling to pony up more cash for the Paris Summer Games in 2024.