US television broke the worst Olympic opening figures in 33 years last summer, with an NBC exclusive watched by 16.7 million viewers. The decline from tournament to tournament is compelling: audiences are down 37% from 2016 when 26.5 million people watched the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, and down 59% from 2012, when 40.7 million people saw the ceremony in London. The situation is so bad that NBC Universal gives advertisers extra airtime because the Games haven't gathered an audience.
Monmouth University conducted a poll in late July about interest in the Olympics, and 41% of respondents said they had no interest in the Games, and only 16% followed the performances.
There was also a question about timing: 36% of Americans believed the Olympics should have been ditched during the pandemic. However, this is unlikely to have impacted interest in the games, which has already happened anyway.
The good news is that Discovery (the owner of the TV channel Eurosport) seems to have got good ratings in Europe: 275 million viewers over Europe in the first nine days of the Games. Many people saw athletes and potentially read the news, making bets using bookmaker-ratings.com trusted rating.
However, there is a possibility of cross-counting. Under contract with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Discovery is obliged to give broadcasters from the pool countries sub-licenses for at least 200 hours of broadcasting. As a result, one viewer was counted several times.
The internet has changed the rules of the game, and the IOC is sticking to its old tactics
You could say the OIC is moving to the internet, but they don't. About 17 million viewers for the opening are all platforms, including NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app.
If you don't take the scandalous headlines or big wins, YouTube's numbers are average. And not even a single streaming service went down, as it did during Euro 2020.
The Games compete not even with political talk shows but with every possible form of entertainment, from TV series to video games on the internet. And on every level, the Games are losing the battle for attention. Over the past ten years, viewer attitudes towards allocating their time have changed as much as possible. And this applies to sports fans as well. If football's top clubs are hysterically running to create a closed league to keep their audience and admit they're competing with Warzone, what about the Olympics?
Importantly, none of this in any way questions the greatness of the athletes. Many give up their health for a medal and the principle of sport. And some have their whole lives tied to sports alone. They deserve respect and recognition.
It's just that the International Olympic Committee has missed the technological leap. You used to have to catch every broadcast of the Games on TV, and it was an Event with Godlike People. Now it's just one of many. The attention of the mass fan has deteriorated. Here, even Lionel Messi's departure from Barcelona doesn't seem quite so historic. "The end of an era" happens every week.
The Summer Olympics roll on by inertia, feeling like the main event in the world of sports. And it hasn't been that way for a long time. The IOC decided they weren't enough and, after Rio 2016, added 33 more disciplines. And only five were truly new sports: BMX freestyle, skateboarding, surfing, karate, and rock climbing.
At the same time, many of the older sports have an already high entry threshold: shooting, horsemanship, and other "classic" competitions still need to be sorted out before watching. The increase of the number of stars blurs the value of each particular victory story for the mass fan.
The future of the Olympics tech
There's no denying that the interest in the Olympics declines, so something has to change. A couple of technologies are in development or already on the rise to implement in the format to attract wider audiences, including the younger people. For example, augmented reality can become a part of everyday life in five to ten years. While it's a novelty, sports should introduce fans to technology and amaze them. For example, AR can show additional information: athletes' statistics, names, hobbies. Anything that'll make the viewers entertained without losing the Olympic spirit.
Another technology that might be useful for both fans and athletes is virtual reality training. In the age of pandemic, some can't get to their gym, so they have to work out at home. VR can help create a comfortable environment and let fans engage with their beloved athlete.
The future is bright, but it would be hard to convince the strict Olympic Committee to implement these ideas. Let's wait and see what's coming next.
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