No shit Olympic ratings are down

Joe Polastre
4 min readAug 22, 2016

NBC spent $12 billion for the rights to host the Olympics. Primetime ratings — the ones advertisers pay the most for — are down 17 percent from London. In the coveted 18–49 age bracket, ratings are down 25 percent. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, except…

Steve Burke, NBCUniversal’s CEO, says:

“We wake up someday and the ratings are down 20 percent. If that happens, my prediction would be that millennials had been in a Facebook bubble or a Snapchat bubble and the Olympics have come, and they didn’t know it.”

No Steve, we knew about the Olympics. You delivered us a horrible product. I watched the summer Olympics religiously when I was younger — from the opening ceremonies, which for the first time weren’t broadcast in their entirety, to the closing ceremonies, incredibly dull this year. This time around, I didn’t even have much interest in the games.

Steve, we can make the Olympics better. While the numbers don’t show a switch away from traditional television this year, it was a turning point in people’s attention to the Olympics. If you don’t see the canary in the coal mine, your ratings are in for a shakeup in 2018 and 2020.

The Olympic Committee and NBC ran this Olympics just like every past Olympics, and that’s the problem.

Eliminate the extended wait during prime time

On one of the first days, I was excited for beach volleyball. NBC repeatedly said “Coming up, beach volleyball!” Three hours later, still no volleyball.

Women’s gymnastics were pushed by NBC to be as late as possible — surely not the best strategy for encouraging young women to see such role models. I’ll bet it was great for keeping people around for ratings. Random swim race after random swim race from 8:30 til 11pm, then finally gymnastics. The medal ceremony wasn’t held until 11:45pm.

Oh good, let’s mix in some Springboard Synchro Final to push out gymnastics.

Streaming was an afterthought

Who uses the NBC Sports app on Roku or Apple TV? Thanks for the laundry list of random broadcasts with no rhyme or reason. I am an avid watcher of the “Gold Zone,” which flips around to whatever sport is competing for a medal. I’m pretty sure this is staffed by NBC interns.

When you found something to watch, the quality was horrible. Or it buffered. Like streaming video did in 2005.

Screen seen most often while streaming the Olympics.

Spread the olympics out

Two weeks already seems like a long time. We all have jobs and following March Madness on Thursdays and Fridays is hard enough. March Madness is 20 days. The World Cup is 32 days. In the best case, the MLB playoffs are 25 days. Don’t even get me started about the NBA playoffs…

Olympics hold championships for 35 sports in 16 days.

That’s cray cray.

This is only sports from A-F…

Too many things at once

With 35 sports and 300+ events, there’s no way to possibly catch what you want. Table tennis might interest you — good luck figuring out when and where to watch it. There’s 4 live streams at 2pm on a Wednesday titled “Table 1” through “Table 4”. Huh?

There were 6,755 hours of coverage during the Rio Olympics. That’s 281 days of 24/7 Olympic television.

A sampling of the Olympic sports on August 18 before 11:04am local time.

What are these sports?

One day the television showed this obscure sport called Keirin. Let me tell you about it — a person on a motorized bike paces the field for 1.4 kilometers and then peels off for the regular bicycles to sprint to the finish.

This is a sport. That was on television. Over any of the other sports.

Keirin. Not at the Olympics, because rights to Olympic photographs cost a lot of money.

Bob Costas

No Olympic list is complete without Bob Costas. Last Olympics, there was the botox/pink eye Costas scandal. This Olympics, despite limited appearances, SI put him on the level of gods.

I wouldn’t know — I can’t concentrate when his shoulders are perpetually uneven. Have you noticed he cannot keep both shoulders level? You’ll notice it now, and it will bug you for the rest of Olympic time.

Bob, sit up straight!

NBC holds the rights for the Olympics through 2032. Get ready for more of the same in 2 years in Pyeongchang and 4 years in Tokyo!



Joe Polastre

Pilot 🧑‍✈️, sailor ⛵️, product leader 👨‍💻