By Melissa Davidson

Unless Bob Costas gets pink eye again, is there anything that can save NBC’s ratings and coverage of the Olympic games in Rio thus far?

Opening ceremony TV views were less than steller – down 35% among all viewers from London’s opener four years ago.

The following night fared only slightly better, down about 28% from London but still at a 20-year low, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Ratings are starting to see an upswing as American men and women sweep swimming medals and magical gymnast Simone Biles continues to shine. Total viewing data, including digital formats, will be available later this week, NBC promises.

Time will tell, but the way millennials are viewing sports, including the Olympics, is changing with the times.

Let’s look at the trends to see why.

1) Social media and livestream

What catches the eye throughout the day on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, may determine if you tune into watch the Olympics on TV. Seeing something on social media influences one’s decision to tune in.

Now, after reading about #PhelpsFace on Facebook, I really want to see him win the 200-meter butterfly because it would prove his shade is justified.

NBC’s livestream multicast has taken some of the audience away, but TV is still king with 60% of consumers saying they will watch the games on TV.

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Photo Credit: Jorge Andrade/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

However, several millennial friends of mine say watching coverage on TV is plain “annoying” with all the commercials and weird commentary from old men who just don’t get it.

It’s great that NBC is optimizing with mobile devices, even if the set-up isn’t flawless.

You can watch video with the NBC app without having to listen to Olympic commentators, whose words really rub some people the wrong way.

2) Traditional cable and video

To back up the claim that millennials are seeking out videos instead of traditional television and cable, a study found that young people are into YouTube celebrities just as much as traditional TV celebrities.

As for sports, the study found that millennials are more accustomed to seeking influencers on YouTube and Facebook than from ESPN.

ESPN – either the cable channel or the app – is still the place to go for 25- to-34-year-olds: 58% list ESPN as their resource for sports-related video content, followed by Facebook at 52%.

Among younger people, 13- to 24-year olds, YouTube gets 64%, Facebook with 53% and ESPN just 42%.

Interestingly, 4% of this younger group discover sports videos by looking to experts like sports pundits and analysts.

3) NBC strategy

Creating strong, positive, emotional reactions to a product fosters the desire to remain loyal to a brand over a long period of time.

But if the brand isn’t delivering, my word-of-mouth promotion isn’t going to be great, and I’m not likely to return in the future.

That’s marketing 101 and the reason why location and relationship are marketing buzzwords in 2016.

Some people are loyal to the “packaged” programming that NBC says the majority of the viewing public prefers over the actual, live competition.

I read a story recently in the Humanist, written by a millennial, who says she loves the inspirational stories that are rolled into a couple of weeks of programming.

Photo Credit: Jorge Andrade/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)
Photo Credit: Jorge Andrade/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

I’ve also spoken with friends who say they don’t care for the “soft-focused story aspect of competitions” and simply want to see the games.

These opinions align with a piece written by columnist Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post that says NBC’s packaging of the Olympics is an insult to viewers and the athletes themselves.

“Even if you buy NBC’s argument that the majority of the public prefers edited, packaged programming over the vagaries of live sports competition, then ask yourself this question: Why aren’t NFL football telecasts tape delayed and packaged? Why don’t the networks delay and collapse the games in favor of sugary features showing childhood films of the Manning brothers on a swing set instead of wasting viewer’s time with a penalty-filled second quarter?”

“The fact is, no network would do that. Why? Because the networks assign a dignity and an import to a live NFL game that they don’t to women’s gymnastics.”

4) Women ‘do’ sports

Most of the money and attention spent on sports and athletes is directed at men, both at the professional and amateur levels.

Of the 150 million NFL fans, 45% are women and over one-third of viewers are women. Women on Team USA make up 53%.

A lot of American women are going to bring home medals. In fact, the women’s gymnastics squad just won the team All-Around Gold Medal for the second consecutive Olympics.

And because so many women watch sports on TV, NBC broadcasters need to stop with comments like “the man responsible” for Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s world record in the 400-meter individual medley is her husband/coach.

The current strategy of NBC Olympic coverage isn’t winning over the public.

What if the execs listened to what the customer wants to see and how they want to see it?

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Jorge Andrade/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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Melissa Davidson is a freelance writer & social media marketer based in Boise, Idaho. She has a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Montana and is a former newspaper reporter. When she’s not hovering over a keyboard, Melissa can be found in the pain cave of endurance sports.

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