All eyes on PyeongChang: how the Olympic broadcasters are changing the ratings game

Every Olympic Games this century has been a landmark in the decline of traditional TV viewership and the rise of digital consumption. Now, the IOC’s lead broadcast partners are trying to demonstrate to advertisers and stakeholders how PyeongChang 2018 is really being watched.

All eyes on PyeongChang: how the Olympic broadcasters are changing the ratings game

In the wake of the last Winter Olympics in 2014, Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, expressed mild frustration that the media focused on ratings data to assess his network’s performance in covering Sochi.

He had a point, and to prove that point NBC did something about it. In March 2017 it announced the launch of the Total Audience Delivery (TAD) metric, which accounts for expected viewership from linear TV, as well as video-on-demand (VOD), over the top (OTT) and mobile platforms. For PyeongChang the American broadcaster based their advertising sales entirely on expected TAD.

For NBC, TAD certainly provides a more attractive sales point. For example, the recent Super Bowl LII registered a traditional linear average of 103.4 million TV viewers, according to Nielsen. The TAD recording, however, was 118.2 million viewers across all NBC platforms once Nielsen’s ‘out of home' figure was factored in.

From London 2012 to the Rio Games NBC logged a 21 per cent fall in ratings but those figures did not take into account its new metrics. Digitally, Rio 2016 was a success for NBC. The broadcaster said it had 100 million unique users across all its digital platforms, a 29 per cent jump up from 2012, though those were not video specific numbers.

As expected, over the course of the first week of PyeongChang coverage, NBC’s linear ratings are down. However, partly as a result of lower setting expectations, but also factoring in TAD figures Lazarus said on Tuesday that it has exceeded its guarantees to marketers.

US skier Lindsay Vonn watching the Games via her phone, we presume

Discovering new numbers

Just a week out from the opening ceremony Eurosport owner Discovery, the big player in the European Olympic broadcasting picture, revealed its own version of TAD. Discovery’s ‘first-of-its kind methodology to measure audience behaviour across Europe’ - with Europe perhaps being the crucial word in that catchy claim - uses three new metrics to provide a measure of ‘total video’.

The new, broader metric, co-developed with Publicis Media, captures total video across free-to-air, pay-TV, online and social platforms for the company's own platforms and those of all its partners - on tablets, mobile or traditional television screens. It will measure, in hours, videos viewed and the volume of viewing expressed across Discovery's owned and operated platforms, in addition to traditional audience data from its broadcast partners throughout Europe.

It will also track the total users accessing those same Discovery and partner platforms. Finally, and this is perhaps where the Discovery metric varies from TAD, it will address engagement, including the number of likes, shares and comments on content across all the media company’s digital and social media properties.

Jean-Briac Perrette, Discovery’s international president and chief executive, explained: “Discovery is proud to partner with the IOC and Publicis in modernising media consumption measurement to better understand audience behaviour in the digital era.

“Clearly the way people consume content and particularly big events has evolved, which is why we need to bolster traditional measurement methods and expand the metrics of television to capture Total Video.”

Amongst the platitudes and PR speak in that statement was the salient point, that people do not watch big events in the same way as they used to. Gone are the days when televisions could dominate living rooms with their unbending schedules, telling their customers what they want to watch rather than asking them.

The social Games

The proliferation of VOD and OTT services have been key to that shift but millions will now engage with sports events via social media, watching highlights clips almost immediately after they happen.

Some leagues are embracing this. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has loosened its grip on game clips being ‘illegally’ snipped and shared on social media as it realised this was actually providing free advertising and exposure to a huge audience.

Whilst that infuriated networks who had paid huge bills for ‘exclusive’ rights, the switch to now measuring the audience for their own version of that similar social content proves a willing to follow the same path.

To that point, in the run-up to PyeongChang, host broadcaster Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), Eurosport and NBC all signed various content partnerships with Snapchat owner Snap inc.

Now they are measuring that social reach, they can also sell it.

NBC’s head of sport sales, Dan Lovinger, told the Sports Business Journal back in 2016: “We can aggregate all of those audiences and we can leverage and push those into an even broader portfolio in prime time or in cable.

“If you’re a marketer and your time is valuable and your funds are limited, the most important thing you can do is leverage your spend in as many ways as possible.

“It’s not just our sports on their own. It’s how they play into the portfolio to deliver great value to our advertisers.”

No doubt Discovery, which in 2016 pushed the boat out with its €1.3 billion European Olympics media rights deal up until 2024, will be saying the same thing.

For Eurosport, long seen as the home of niche sports and smaller events, this is its big play. Before the announcement of his move to Facebook, former chief executive Peter Hutton told Variety: “More important than [turning a profit] is the chance to change the perception of Eurosport to more than just a linear or a pan-European TV channel, into something that is about making sport accessible across multiple devices to all sorts of audiences.”

Hutton also made the point this new way of recording how people consume the Olympics is useful to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), too. These are the first Games in which the IOC’s own big digital play, the Olympic Channel, has been in operation. The service will only be carrying live Games coverage in a handful of markets but its primary function is to deepen engagement with younger viewers across a breadth of platforms, through live sport and clips and through original programming.

Eurosport its planning to share all of its data with the IOC so the organiser is fully aware of what and how the Games are being consumed.

“They’re ultimately in the same business,” Hutton told SportsPro at a launch briefing for Eurosport’s Olympic coverage back in November.

If it was not clear before, TAD and total video show both major PyeongChang broadcasters are leaving no stone unturned in their bid to prove the Olympics and their big outlays on it are worth it to their network and also to their advertisers.