NBC revealed in a press conference in July that the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Rio Games would not air live, but instead be tape delayed by one hour on the east coast and four hours on the west coast. With the ceremony and Parade of Nations finally taking place on Friday evening, NBC’s reasoning into not just when it broadcasts Olympic events but how resurfaced.
NBC has frequently chosen to package the Olympics for prime-time, and to curate the cultural elements of the Opening Ceremonies. Previously, however, these decisions were made for Games held in London and Sochi, not one in the Americas in a one time-zone over from New York.
Frustrating, yes, but ultimately not impacting coverage of the sporting events themselves. It’s also an understandable business move, if jaded.
But there was on quote in particular that made the rounds, one that had less to do with the frustrating tape-delay but indicated how the network approached its coverage as a cohesive whole. Originally reported by Jonathan Tannenwald of philly.com in July, the five sentences were straight from John Miller, NBC Olympics chief marketing officer:
“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one. And to tell the truth, it has been the complaint of a few sportswriters. It has not been the complaint of the vast viewing public.”
The Olympics can be a complicated and overwhelming thing to watch; the number of athletes and events from August 3 to August 21 for Team USA alone is quite large. But they also have compelling storylines–an element of sports that has never been erased. But to insinuate that one demographic watches the Olympic Games solely as a reality show is entirely wrong.
While this doesn’t directly tie into viewership of women’s sports, obviously women’s sports make up a significant portion of Olympics broadcasting. So NBC likely can’t expect the highs of single sports events like a FIFA Women’s World Cup, but the network has already seen increases in averages since 2012.
NBCSN’s full-day Rio Olympic women’s soccer coverage (11:30am-11pm) averages .40 overnight – up 33% from 2012 London opening day (7/25)
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) August 4, 2016
So Miller’s comments are more than just that women do not watch the Olympic Games for sports, but the far-reaching understanding that this is the network’s entire marketing approach to sports broadcasting.
NBC still posted big numbers for the Opening Ceremony on August 5, reporting a 17.2 overnight. But according to Business Insider and a Gallup poll conducted in July, fewer women plan to watch large amounts of the Olympics.
There’s no reason given for the significant drop, though the Rio Olympics are a far more politicized event than the London Games. But the quotes from NBC’s John Miller certainly won’t win them any extra points with potential women viewers.