After Beijing Olympics, NBC’s once seen as shrewd Olympic broadcast rights deal has been questioned

There are plenty of reasons to think that NBC struck a shrewd business deal in 2014 when it locked in U.S. media rights to the Olympics through 2032 for $7.75 billion. With the Beijing Winter Olympics over, it’s hard to be so optimistic now.

The Olympics were a disaster for NBC: a no-brainer, isolated event in an authoritarian country with a 12-hour time difference from the United States. At this Olympics, the image that will never be forgotten will be the emotional breakdown of the Russian teenager after a doping-influenced figure skating competition and the sad and lonely Mikaela Shiffrin sitting on the ski slopes, wondering what went wrong.

Many U.S. athletes underperformed, but one of the most successful ones, freestyle skier Eileen Gu, competed for China.

After Beijing Olympics, NBC’s once seen as shrewd Olympic broadcast rights deal has been questioned

The number of spectators who didn’t watch the Olympics was astounding, and NBC had to wonder if it was horribly bad luck or if the brand of the event that once brought tens of millions together was permanently tarnished.

“They’re definitely going to be disappointed right now, given the capital invested,” Andrew Billings, director of the University of Alabama’s sports communications program, told The Associated Press.

NBC executives said there are no current plans to try to adjust or withdraw from the broadcast rights deal. That’s unlikely, several experts say, because live sports are increasing in value and are one of the few ways advertisers can get a large audience to sell a car or beer. Gary Zenkel, NBC’s president of the Olympics, is optimistic about future games in Paris, Italy and Los Angeles.

Like last year’s Tokyo Olympics, the Beijing Games were held in an environment where the main goal was to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. That means no fans or family members of athletes in the stands, no bizarre stories about the host country, and even very few broadcasters: Most of NBC’s staff covering the Olympics works out of an office building in suburban Connecticut.

“Of course, one of the great supporting actors of every Olympics is the host city,” Zenker said. “It’s an activation of culture, people, even sponsors. People from all over the world come together, and this is not the case in Beijing this time, and there’s no way we can try to interpret something like that.”

As of last Tuesday, an average of 12.2 million people watched the Games in prime time on NBC, cable or “Peacock” streaming services, a 42% decrease from the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. NBC alone has averaged just 10 million viewers, down 47 percent, according to Nielsen.

It also includes the inflated average ratings that aired immediately after the Super Bowl. “Super Bowl” night drew 24 million viewers.

Pete Bevacqua, NBC’s president of sports, said the ratings were in line with what they told advertisers. The packages they sell to advertisers include both linear and streaming coverage. NBC has not disclosed whether the Beijing Olympics will make a profit or a loss.

Last Thursday’s women’s figure skating competition was a harrowing TV image. In this event, Russia’s Kamila Valieva competed after testing positive for a drug but missed any chance of winning a medal.

The Olympics “are over for me,” a woman tweeted. The most lasting impression on my mind will be of being in the background during a pandemic in a country with a deplorable human rights record and 87 nuclear reactors Fake snow. And kids who need years of psychotherapy.”

The image of Valieva standing alone on the ice, looking terrified before she started her performance, was etched in NBC’s Mike Tirico ( Mike Tirico’s mind. “The adults in the room left her there alone,” he said on the TV show. “She’s been portrayed as a bad guy this week, and she’s been portrayed as a victim. In fact, she’s a victim of the bad guys.”

Billings said, despite longstanding corruption in the Olympic bid process, The Valieva affair tainted the real competition.

“It’s more harmful to the product,” he said.

“It feels like a particularly vulnerable time for NBC,” a person close to the Olympics and television told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because of ongoing business ties.

Given the dire situation of the Beijing Olympics, if someone inside NBC finds a way to improve its deal with the International Olympic Committee, the person said he would not be surprised, but believes it is “very unlikely that NBC will try to pull out of the deal outright.” “.

The time zones for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics and the 2026 Italian Winter Olympics are still not ideal, and there may not be live events during prime time in the US. That will change when Los Angeles hosts the Olympics in the summer of 2028.

The 2030 Winter Olympics could be held in North America, with Vancouver and Salt Lake City both expressing interest in hosting. The IOC may announce the host city next year. Last year, Brisbane, Australia, won the right to host the 2032 Summer Olympics.

Bevacqua and NBC realized there was still a lot of work to do to build an Olympic brand that had been tarnished over the past six months.

“I think we have to work with the IOC and the USOC on many fronts to rejuvenate the Olympics after Tokyo and Beijing and prepare for the Games in Paris, Italy and Los Angeles. That will be our strategy. priority,” Bevacqua said.

John Ourand, a media affairs writer for the Sports Business Journal, said NBC knew long before the coronavirus pandemic that the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics could be the subject of a broadcast rights deal trough.

“It’s looking especially bleak right now,” Hollande said. “It’s certainly a low ebb. But two of the next three Olympics are going to be huge commercial successes for NBC.”

The media world is in the throes of a dwindling cable TV and changing viewing habits brought on by streaming . Revolutionary changes in the way of entertainment consumption. Live sports are one of the few sure-fire ways to get people to turn on their TVs. Despite astronomical increases in broadcast fees and declining viewership, few There are media companies that regret making these investments.

NBC has locked in all media rights to the 2028 and 2032 Olympics at a price set in 2014.

“I don’t think they want to get out of this situation,” said Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University and a former US Olympic Committee chief marketing officer. “It’s Park Avenue. It’s a showcase that no one else has. They just need to make it more appealing to people who are away from television.”

That means being able to monetize the different ways people consume Olympic content, especially the younger generation searching for interesting stuff on their phones. Streaming is becoming more important — NBC has so far broadcast 3.5 billion minutes of content from Beijing, compared with 2.2 billion during the Olympics in South Korea — so expect “Peacock” to get more attention.

“We’re in a position where you can open an app on your phone or a connected TV and have a moment where you see the Olympic glory,” Zenker said. “There is no piece of content that cannot be discovered.”

NBC said that while the Olympics in Europe may not be optimal for prime-time TV viewers, they are more suitable for those who want to watch the events on-demand on their own terms. people. NBC executives have said it is possible to move more exclusive content to Peacock, which requires a paid subscription. But they also envision Peacock as a one-stop shop for everything about the Olympics.

“I wouldn’t say (the rights deal) was not a good deal for NBC,” Pearson told The Associated Press. “On the contrary, I think it’s a good deal, and it will be better for them in the future.”

Sunbal Razzaq

Sunbal Razzaq is the founder & CEO of Sunshine Tips.

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