Ironically, the strongest memories from NBC’s abridged telecast of the grand finale weren’t of athletes decked out in colorful gear and having a good time. The stars who had carried the previous 2½ weeks were eclipsed in the closing extravaganza by K-pop music stars: the group EXO in white and singer CL in black.
In the black of another kind, by its own account, was NBC, continuing a profitable streak it has claimed since London in 2012.
Besides making money, the Games made stars. Even before the flame was extinguished Sunday, U.S. snowboarder Chloe Kim was on boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, with U.S. hockey captain Meghan Duggan headed for the front of Special K packages.
More deals are likely in the offing, including some that don’t involve cereals, although the U.S. medal count was down from recent Winter Games.
U.S. viewership also was down, falling below that of Sochi four years ago in a way that suggested fatigue set in after a strong start, although there was a bit of a bounce for the closing ceremony.
Perhaps news headlines lured viewers away. It’s possible Team USA’s medal struggles in sports it was expected to be stronger had viewers looking elsewhere. Maybe the events showcased in later days just weren’t as compelling as those earlier.
It still was the biggest draw around.
On NBC alone, Olympics coverage averaged 19.8 million viewers, while the combined average for ABC, CBS and Fox was 9.8 million. That’s an 82 percent advantage, up from a 43 percent advantage in Sochi and an 8 percent edge four years before that in Vancouver. ABC, CBS and Fox actually combined for 38 percent more viewers than NBC’s 2006 Winter Games coverage in Torino.
“In today’s media environment, to average approximately 20 million viewers (in prime time over all its platforms) over 18 nights — which is essentially the number of hours for a full season of three prime-time shows — is a tremendous accomplishment,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports Group, said in a statement. “When compared to the competition, we were more dominant than any Winter Games ever.”
NBC did an overall solid job, though it was slow to abandon pre-established storylines and embrace new ones.
It might not have hurt, for example, if NBC had spent less time repeating the story about skier Lindsey Vonn’s late grandfather and more time on fellow U.S. skier Gus Kenworthy’s adoption of dogs in South Korea to save them from their meat being sold for human consumption.
So many things are bound to be redundant, like the look of bobsled after bobsled hurtling down the same track. It’s not bad to mix things up where possible.
NBC did veer from conventional wisdom in carrying Olympic programming simultaneously coast to coast, rather than staggered by time zones. What was live in the East — such as morning events in South Korea in prime time here — was on at the same time in the West.
That enabled social media to funnel viewers into events without so much risk of spoiling it.
This also was the first time a network has had live prime-time coverage on two outlets at the same time, a nod to the realization someone inclined to watch, say, hockey on NBCSN might not have any interest in figure skating on NBC, even if that was the only Olympic viewing option available.
Proof of the Olympics’ undeniable and sometimes unexpected appeal: Live coverage of the U.S. men’s curling squad’s gold-medal match with Sweden averaged a reported 1.58 million viewers on cable’s NBCSN and 78,000 streams online in the middle of the night, roughly midnight to 3 a.m. here in Chicago.
“The Olympics continue to demonstrate the ability to assemble massive and diverse audiences on platforms ranging from television to mobile to Snapchat,” Lazarus said. “The Games are uniquely suited to thrive in today’s expanding media landscape.”
Viewers under 30 are showing they are as likely to watch the Olympics on devices as on a television. Of some concern is that they may not be nearly as interested in the Olympics as their parents.
NBC has aggressively staked out digital platforms, adding streams of their TV coverage and more, even producing some content for Snapchat. Whatever the preferred mode of viewing turns out to be in the years to come, NBC needs to be there.
If the Olympics is no longer considered binge-worthy programming before today’s preschoolers at least reach college, NBC is in trouble.
That’s because NBCUniversal parent Comcast laid out $7.75 billion in 2014 for a 10-year extension to lock up the U.S. rights to the Summer and Winter Olympics through 2032.
“This is so cute,” ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel joked at the time in a presentation to advertisers. “They still think there’s going to be a winter by 2032.”
But even as Kimmel made fun of rival NBC at the behest of ABC’s sales staff, he had to acknowledge the Olympics were a magnet for viewers.
“C-SPAN could have been No. 1 with the Olympics,” Kimmel said. “The video screens above the pumps at the gas stations would have been No. 1 if they had the Olympics.”
NBC’s audience numbers in the beginning of the Pyeongchang Olympics were far enough ahead of its pre-Games projections for its broadcast, cable and digital platforms that it could sell $20 million in extra national commercial time while the competition was going on.
The slots initially were held in reserve in case advertisers that already spent a collective $900 million to reach a certain number of eyeballs needed free spots to get their money’s worth.
So that’s $920 million in national sales, where Sochi reportedly brought in only $800 million. (That’s about $850 million in today’s dollars but still not a bad uptick.)
“With Tokyo, Beijing, Paris and Los Angeles coming up as hosts — and coming off four consecutive profitable Games — we are very bullish on our investment,” Lazarus said.
So it’s not just K-pop stars singing an upbeat tune. You never know, however, who will still be hot in a few years.