After being delayed for a year, the Tokyo Olympics will draw to a close this weekend. On top of popular athletes bowing out after testing positive for Covid-19 and stands void of spectators, the disparate time zones mean U.S. TV viewers see results hours before the actual events air. It comes as no big surprise then that overall viewership of the games so far on linear TV has been lagging the 2016 Rio Olympics, as many media outlets have reported.
But that doesn’t tell the full story of how U.S. viewers are engaging with the Olympics, and what it means for the future of live event advertising.
Comcast NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service is especially winning with consumers. Originally, NBCUniversal decided to time the launch of Peacock to the 2020 games. With the pandemic, that strategy went out the window, and Peacock went live last year anyway. And yet the Olympic games are still paying off for the year-old service, which viewers can turn to see comprehensive coverage of the games regardless of the time.
Peacock now has 54 million accounts, a 22 percent jump from the 42 million the service boasted in March, the company said during its second-quarter earnings. Active users are naturally on the rise as well, with Peacock now hosting 20 million active users, a 30 percent upswing from the 14 million active accounts the service had in March.
On the earnings call, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell asserted that Peacock’s rise in viewership is in part fueling the Tokyo Olympics’ profitability, and the platform, which sells an ad-supported tier and a higher-cost option without ads, will continue to be a major player in how the network covers future games. NBCUniversal currently has broadcasting and media rights to the Olympics until 2032. “What we will learn in this Olympics, we will take to Beijing,” he said.
Peacock and other streaming viewership on NBC’s Olympics app and the NBC Sports app is a bright spot for otherwise weaker linear ratings of the opening ceremony and programming so far. The total audience across linear and streaming for first night of competition was roughly 16 million viewers, down 32 percent from the same night from the Rio Olympics, Nielsen found. Though some accurately point out the time difference in Rio was more agreeable for U.S. viewers and that the decline in ratings align to the overall decline of broadcast TV overall throughout the last four years.
Meanwhile, NBC’s streaming efforts are delivering record numbers with The Hollywood Reporter citing that streaming is up 19 percent from 2016 with users watching 2 billion minutes of coverage in the first week. In the first three days of Olympics programming alone, consumers streamed 1 billion minutes of Olympics content, the fastest NBC has hit that milestone. The third day of the Olympics, a Monday, saw a record of 746,000 viewers.
“We had a little bit of bad luck—there was a drumbeat of negativity,” said Shell during the earnings call. “But the flip side of that is the digital trends kind of offset that.”
The success of the Summer Games’ streaming and digital viewership is a vote of confidence for the rise of live sports streaming — and the advertising opportunity it represents — overall. “Live sports provide a tremendous environment for our clients’ brands to live within based on the attention and immediacy of the games,” says Susan Schiekofer, GroupM Chief Digital Investment Officer. “The availability and growth of programmatic live sports make for an exciting environment because brands can be involved in the drama as it happens. We can also easily ‘double down’ on our ad support when games go into overtime or when nail-biters and underdog upsets happen by dynamically serving creative to unique audience sets when the audiences start to pop.”
Peacock promises live coverage of the games every morning, with daily highlights and recaps. Adding in celebrity pairings doesn’t hurt either. This past weekend, Peacock brought in Snoop Dogg and Kevin Hart to riff, uncensored, on Olympics footage. The result? Snoop recognizing the similarities between equestrian sports and crip walking and skeet shooting sounding awfully familiar to a famous line from Lil Jon’s “Get Low.” Comic Roy Wood Jr. of “The Daily Show” commented on the hilarity with a tweeted clip which alone saw 1.9 million views on Twitter.