A recent study of sports viewers in the U.S. uncovers trends from the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year that don’t bode well for viewership of Beijing 2022.
Despite the historic performances both on and off the mat, track and rails, the Toyko Summer Olympics had the lowest ratings of any Summer Olympics. Looking at Nielsen ratings over the last 10 years, history also points to lower viewership for Winter Olympics compared to Summer Olympics. The Broadbeam Streaming Sports Study, fielded December 2021, points to the trend of lower live viewership continuing for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing.
While live viewership is expected to be down, there were some impressive numbers around attention paid to Olympic coverage: Roughly the same number of viewers had watched football in the last year as had watched at least one event of the Tokyo Summer Olympics either live, time-delayed or just through highlights. This variety of viewership also underlines how our TV ratings may be under-representing the presence of the Summer Olympics in people’s lives, which is increasingly cross-screen and cross-platform. Nineteen percent of Summer Olympic viewers reported watching the games on YouTube, and 47% of these viewers watched on YouTube exclusively.
Time-delayed or highlight viewership was a major part of the audience for the Summer Olympics’ most popular sports among those surveyed: Gymnastics, swimming, track and diving. Less than half of viewers of these four popular sports recalled watching them live. We can expect this trend to continue in Beijing broadcasts. Survey respondents named ice skating as their most anticipated Winter Olympic sport, followed by skiing and snowboarding, which lend themselves to highlight reels and time-delayed viewing.
The Olympic events that the majority of viewers watched live were basketball, baseball and tennis — sports American viewers are used to watching regularly and are not used to getting delayed results. NBA viewers were twice as likely as other respondents to have watched basketball in the summer Olympics and the same was true of MLB fans and Olympic baseball. While the Winter Olympics does feature hockey, because the NHL does not allow players to play in the Olympics (on top of hockey’s already lower popularity in the U.S.), Olympic coverage of this sport is unlikely to draw either new or established NHL fans.
While Americans may be exposed to plenty of clips from ice skating, skiing and snowboarding across platforms, they won’t be watching the same programming at the same time and viewing numbers will continue to disappoint.
Overall, as we look forward to the start of the 2022 event in Beijing, historical viewership trends and viewers’ attitudes toward the upcoming Games point to an Olympics that will be viewed in short bursts across platforms. This scattered viewership won’t lead linear TV, YouTube, Peacock or NBCOlympics.com to “bring home the gold.”
About the Broadbeam Sports Streaming Study: Fielded in December 2021 with a sample of 1,523 people, the study examined viewership and stated behaviors around sports viewership outside of linear TV, including specific streaming services, apps, sports and sporting events.