August 23, 2016

Summer Olympics 2016: Final Ratings Track & The Case of Shrinking Program Length

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Written by: Mitch Metcalf
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Here is the final Summer Olympic ratings track for Rio 2016, with the official ratings for all 17 nights.  In terms of millions of viewers 2+, Rio finished above Sydney 2000, just above Athens 2004, but below Beijing 2008 and London 2012.  In terms of adult 18-49 rating (what an advertiser cares about), Rio was well below all recent Olympics.  In the coming days we will look at the ratings track for various generations, and you will see it is the 18-34 audience that is the main reason for the soft 18-49 numbers in Rio.  But first, let’s take a look at how a program rating can be maximized by a broadcaster.

Summer Olympics 2016 thru 2016 08 21 FINAL

NBC gets a special gold medal for program formatting.  If all 240 or so minutes had been rated each night, Rio ratings would have looked worse than they already did. The chart below looks at the official program duration for each night of the Summer Olympic Games.  This is not how long the program actually aired, but how many minutes contained national commercials and thus were officially rated by Nielsen.  As you can see, the official program duration has been dropping steadily since 2000, going from over four hours per night (251 minutes in Sydney) to just over three hours in 2016 (184 minutes per night in Rio).  Each night is still a solid four hours long generally speaking (usually from 8:00 pm E/P to slightly past midnight), but NBC can control the rated program duration in two ways: (1) not placing commercials in the generally lower-rated 8 pm hour and (2) stopping the program’s rating at the last national commercial minute if the night’s events are less than compelling.  The third Friday of the Games this year (night 15 on 8.19.2016) was a record low 94 minutes, mostly because of the special Superstore episode at 10:34 pm and also because the entire 8-9 pm hour of coverage had local commercials and promos (and therefore could be excluded from the rating).   But other than the big women’s gymnastics or swimming nights (the first Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday), program durations this year rarely exceeded 200 minutes a night.

Summer Olympics Duration Track 2016 FINAL



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.