Olympics Provide An Opportunity To Change The Ratings Conversation


NBC Sports has good reason to celebrate after the 2018 Winter Olympics. NBC “won every primetime night in all 56 major markets since the start of the Games” in addition to “routinely [having] more viewers than ABC, CBS and Fox combined.” At a time when television audience numbers for primetime programming are decreasing, NBC provided advertisers with consistent daily audiences of over 20 million viewers.

However, NBC’s ratings have largely been criticized because of declines in overall viewership compared to past Olympics. For example, the NY Post proclaimed “NBC’s Olympic ratings won’t win any medals.” In particular, ratings were down 8% overall from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

NBC’s ratings performance demonstrates the importance of changing the conversation around television ratings. More specifically, television should not be solely focused on the quantity of impressions. Other channels consistently outperform television from a quantity perspective. 

A good example is the NBA Christmas Day games. The Timberwolves-Lakers game on TNT had 1.54 million viewers. For Timberwolves jersey patch sponsor Fitbit, this represented a large audience being exposed to its brand.


 Bleacher Report posts featuring Timberwolves images generated a higher number of impressions than the television broadcast for its Christmas Day game.

Bleacher Report posts featuring Timberwolves images generated a higher number of impressions than the television broadcast for its Christmas Day game.

Yet, Bleacher Report properties featuring images with the Timberwolves on Instagram alone receive an expected 12.596 million impressions. These Instagram impressions are much more likely to be seen by 18-49 year old demographics that are appealing to advertisers (NBC also saw a 24% ratings decline in this demographic from the 2014 Sochi Olympics).  In addition, Fitbit (the jersey sponsor of the Timberwolves) had posts featuring Karl-Anthony Towns where its logo was more prominently featured on screen than it was on the majority of the television broadcast. If an advertiser is mainly looking for quantity then it can usually partner with properties like Bleacher Report given the size of its audience.

Television partners have the opportunity to change the conversation to address quality rather than quantity of impressions. In particular, different advertisers have different brand and advertising goals. For example, Pepsi has different business objectives than CDW. Pepsi is primarily focused on reaching as many retail customers as possible who make relatively small purchase decision on food and beverage brands. CDW is targeting a smaller set of enterprise customers that make relatively large purchase decisions on technology products for their businesses.

 Pepsi and CDW would not receive the same value from Olympics advertising given that they have different goals. NBC should have different approaches for each brand based on their goals for determining value. CDW, for example, an older audience may potentially be better than a younger audience. The average age of C-level executives (one of CDW’s target demographics) at Fortune 500 companies is approaching 50 years-old and has skewed older since 2012. A decline in younger viewership means it is potentially more likely that older demographics make up a larger portion of NBC’s audience. This would be particularly appealing to CDW for its approach in targeting C-level executives and make the Olympics more attractive even as overall ratings decline. 

Quantity is still an important consideration when making advertising and sponsorship decisions. NBC will still "turn a profit" on the Games and it will "hit the ratings guarantees it promised to advertisers, an important financial barometer." However, neither NBC nor the advertisers should be solely reliant on ratings guarantees to determine value. The Olympics demonstrate that there is an opportunity for the both the buyers and sellers of sports content to have a conversation that includes the quality of media impressions as well.