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Report: Early NBC Olympic ratings down compared to 2012

Aug 5, 2016; Belo Horizonte, Brazil; A general view of Estadio Mineirao , one of the regional venues for soccer matches during the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

While the opening week of the Olympics provided plenty of intrigue, the NBC Olympic ratings tell us that fewer people are enjoying the drama than in the past.

“NBC prime-time numbers remained down relative to the first Saturday of recent Summer Games,” per A.J. Katz, Adweek. “NBC delivered 20.7 million total prime-time viewers on Saturday, a 28 percent decline from the first Saturday night of London 2012 and a 14 percent decline from the first Saturday night of Beijing 2008.”

There are a number of things to look at here.

First, of course, is a tape delay. When events aren’t live, it’s very easy to find spoilers, even by accident. Granted, that isn’t new compared to London in 2012, but it’s something that will only get easier in time.

Second, unlike 2004, 2008, and 2012, Michael Phelps did not swim the 400 meter individual medley this year. The final for that race always falls on the opening Saturday night of the Olympics. Phelps, along with Usain Bolt, is one of the two biggest stars of the Olympics. If he’s taken out of the mix, interest is naturally going to fade.

Lastly, Katz quoted an NBC Sports spokesperson, who attributed the lack of interest to the increase in streamed shows on outlets like Netflix. The claim is that viewers are less tolerant towards commercial heavy broadcasts.

“Given that the commercial load was very similar to London, we believe that consumption habits, such as binge-watching and ‘marathoning,’ have changed perceptions among the viewing audience regarding commercials.”

As is always the case, it’s certainly not just one thing. Still, the commercial load and disbursement is something that can be controlled.

Obviously, a television network can’t do anything about an athlete not participating in an event. It also can’t do anything about tape delays, which are needed for an event that takes place in a different part of the world.

But the commercial load is something that they have control over. Commercials are obviously necessary, but networks need to be wise about how often they feature them. Viewers have too many options these days to spend several hours watching commercials.