As Under Armour defends its high–tech speed skating suits, the US Olympic team isn’t the only one with a tech-driven problem. NBC’s primetime Olympics ratings are a roller coaster of highs and lows — taking the biggest hit in the coveted 18–49 year–old demographic. For the second week in a row, the Olympics have lost out in that key demo to new episodes of The Walking Dead. This speaks to the larger shifts in digital consumption.
The amazing success of House of Cards on Netflix on Valentine’s Day, including non–primetime, helps shed a light on the growing issue — the redefinition of how we consume content.
Long Live Live Content
NBC took a lot of flack in 2012 for blacking out the live coverage of the London Opening Ceremonies in favor of a delayed primetime showing. They faced similar issues back in 2010. Conversely, the live broadcasted events on NBCSN from 3am to 3pm are doing exceptionally well given the timeframe, further emphasizing the importance of live content.
You can watch live coverage of the Olympics online, but without a cable provider, you only get a temporary pass. And they’re enforcing geo–blocking for international sites. Quite annoying for cord–cutters.
The issue for the non–live primetime is that we already know what’s going to happen. It’s almost impossible to avoid learning the results on social or news outlets — the larger the time zone differential the harder it gets. The primetime coverage is a glorified highlight reel, but how many people have already watched the highlights or gotten the recap on a news channel, social media, etc.? If you knew the score of this last Super Bowl and saw the highlight reel ahead of time would you have watched it?
With the advent of so many viewing opportunities, such as online streaming, DVR, social video, etc., viewers control when they watch what. The main drivers to watch at a time specified by the content provider are that people want to see the content so badly and the rewards to see it immediately are so strong that they will make the time to watch it.
Live events have always offered this thirst for immediate satisfaction. For the scripted shows The Walking Dead and House of Cards, this has lead to record viewerships driven by rabid fanbases. In the case of the Olympics, these types of super fans are doing everything they can to get real-time information and the primetime ratings are suffering. The draw of the live content is still there, and viewers satisfy the need as soon as possible through multiple media channels, significantly reducing the desire to watch the primetime coverage.
The trend of losing out in this key demographic as viewers satisfy their thirst for live information is only going to get worse if changes don’t come soon, and advertising prices/revenues will drop (see: newspapers). NBC can’t dictate time zones or stop the news, so they’ll need to find ways to expand the live coverage and spread the advertising love further, relying less upon primetime coverage of the Olympics.
While there’s still time for NBC to take charge of the coverage and control the redefinition of how we watch the Olympics, the clock is ticking and they need to fully embrace these challenges to find lasting solutions.