Although NBC continues to trumpet its success broadcasting the Olympics, a little analysis makes those claims suspect. Let’s highlight a few of these.
NBC claims that their Olympic coverage is reaching more people than any previous Olympics. Maybe, but that does not take into account the growth in the US population. (For example, John McCain got more votes than Ronald Reagan did. Was McCain the more successful candidate?)
NBC claims that they are getting relatively high ratings. Relative to what? The other networks are mostly showing repeats (with some notable exceptions) so there is not much competition. How about compared to previous Olympics? NBC actually is getting a lower percentage of households than prior Olympics (except maybe 2006 in Torino, which NBC also ran). And remember – this year the Olympics is taking place in a North American time zone, which always helps coverage.
So, could they do better? It’s a theoretical argument that might not have an answer. The world changes every year so comparing one Olympics to prior ones is not quite valid. Not only is the sporting world different (e.g., the U.S. hockey team this year is doing very well, but U.S. figure skaters aren’t as dominant) but the viewing world is different. Television is more fractured (cable, internet, etc.) and involves more technology (e.g., DVRs). NBC itself owns several media properties and shows coverage across them.
But the biggest question is whether NBC is correct in treating the Olympics as something other than a set of true sporting events. NBC tape-delays anything that they feel is better shown in prime-time. NBC also gives preference to female-friendly events and human interest stories, believing that they will capture the female audience who will in turn keep the male audience sitting with them. Are these good moves? I don’t know, but they do counter some basic marketing principles. NBC is hedging its bets, trying to appease two audiences but not committing 100% to either.They are straddling their position, which is generally not as effective as focusing on one. (They could, though, try to claim both positions by dividing its coverage across its media properties, but it would need to build up the media properties’ brand positions ahead of time.)