August 24, 2016

Summer Olympic Ratings Trends by Generation: 18-34 Dissatisfaction

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Written by: Mitch Metcalf
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With the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio now history, here’s a look at the audience trends in every age category, from young children to retirees.  Each group behaved differently across the 17 nights of the Games, providing NBC with some hope for certain audience segment but much consternation regarding the important 18-34 audience.

Opening Ceremony. The 2016 Rio Games opened with big double-digit percentage declines from the prior four Summer Games in every major generational and lifestage category. Kids, teens and adults 35-49 down nearly -20% from prior Games, while younger adults under 35 and older adults over 50 were down closer to -30%. Based on the first night, it looked like a bloodbath for NBC in every respect.  The only metric that was increasing on the first night was the median age of the audience, which had pushed well north of 50 years old.

Summer Olympic Demo Trends 1 Opening Ceremony

But any Olympic Games is filled with ratings highs and lows, and no night has more potential than the first Tuesday, when the women’s gymnastics take center stage with the finals for the team medals.  Older adults (50+) actually beat the last four Games by a significant +6%, pushing the total viewer (2+) number +5% ahead of previous years.  And even kids, teens and middle-aged adults (35-49) came within a few percentage points of the past four Games.  The stars aligned with a popular sport and a dominant U.S. team, and most of these numbers on this night in Rio showed what was still possible with Olympic television coverage. But adults 18-34 were still down an ominous -23% from the past four Games on the biggest night.  Young adults were starting to show they could be a big problem now and in the future.

Summer Olympic Demo Trends 2 Night 5 1st Tue

At the other end of the excitement spectrum is the final night of competition, the last Saturday, when gymnastics and swimming are distant memories, track & field is wheezing to its conclusion, and audience fatigue has simply set in.  Here we see big declines across the board, punctuated by a whopping -41% drop from recent Games with adults 18-34.  Without a marquee event and great athlete personalities, the entire audience is at risk.

Summer Olympic Demo Trends 3 Night 16 3rd Sat

Putting all 17 nights together, Rio had a very reasonable -6% drop with older viewers (50+), a bigger but still fairly manageable decline with family-age viewers (kids, teens and parent-age adults 35-49 down just over -10%).  But sticking out like a sore thumb are adults 18-34, down a staggering -27%.  These younger adults are the future of the all-important 18-49 sales demographic, and that future looks extremely rocky.

Summer Olympic Demo Trends 4 Nights 1-17 Avg

Source: Nielsen, live+same day, NBC, prime Olympic telecasts, 8.5-8.21.2016, 7.27-8.12.2012, 8.8-8.24.2008, 8.13-8.29.2004, 9.15-10.1.2000


About the Author

Mitch Metcalf
MITCH METCALF has been tracking every US film release of over 500 screens (over 2300 movies and counting) since the storied weekend of May 20, 1994, when Maverick and Beverly Hills Cop 3 inspired countless aficionados to devote their lives to the art of cinema. Prior to that, he studied Politics and Economics at Princeton in order to prepare for his dream of working in television. He has been Head of West Coast Research at ABC, then moved to NBC in 2000 and became Head of Scheduling for 11 years.