There’s been a lot of speculation about NBC’s relationship with the Olympics after Beijing’s Winter Games.
It was clearly a perfect storm for poor ratings. NBC has no control over the pandemic that moved the 2020 Summer Games to late-summer 2021, but that calendar compression meant a lot of fatigue for viewers. (Personally, I couldn’t get into it at all, and this was a chief reason. It turns out the year of spacing between editions is important.) Combined with the time difference, various controversies, and more, and NBC didn’t have much of a chance.
That said, their deal with the IOC runs through 2032. It’s reasonable to wonder if NBC would perhaps seek to renegotiate or even exit their deal entirely, considering the billions they’re paying.
David Bauder and Joe Reedy examined this very question for the Associated Press, and their reporting suggests that NBC has no interest in giving up this particular foothold, despite the ratings slide.
Through Tuesday, an average of 12.2 million people watched the Olympics in prime-time on NBC, cable or the Peacock streaming service, down 42 percent from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The average for NBC alone was 10 million, a 47 percent drop, the Nielsen company said.
That’s even with the average inflated by airing directly after the Super Bowl, a night that brought in 24 million viewers.
NBC Sports chairman Pete Bevacqua said ratings are in line with what they told advertisers, who are sold packages that include linear and streaming coverage. NBC has not yet said whether the Beijing games turned a profit or lost money.
A drop like that is absolutely a big deal, but there are still reasons for optimism. For one, ratings everywhere are only going to continue to fall. NBC almost certainly planned for that when signing such a long-term agreement in 2014. NBC also has Peacock to think about; the Olympics are a perfect property for streaming inventory, and not just for the actual competition weeks. Qualification and other preliminary events and shoulder programming can still find a home on streaming.
And then there’s the ultimate prize of Los Angeles in 2028, when NBC gets the first Summer Olympics to be hosted in the United States since Atlanta in 1996. (There’s still a chance the 2030 Winter Olympics ends up in the United States, too.) Exiting before 2028 would be inconceivable. That said, these past few years have almost certainly been disappointing for NBC.
That’s just kind of the story for a lot of these rights deals amidst the pandemic, though. Some things you can’t control, no matter what NBC’s structured approach to Olympic coverage would have us believe.