If you pay attention to the sports business, you’ve no doubt seen the headlines of the less-than-impressive TV ratings for the Olympics. (Down 17% from prior Games) Even when taking into account the 1.5 billion+ minutes of streaming (just 1.5% of total Olympics viewing time, per @SportsTVRatings).
The drop is primarily attributed to Millennials, but, more to the point, fewer consumers watching traditional TV. There’s no doubt that, between cord-cutting and streaming services, there’s less linear TV being watched per capita these days. But live sports (and major live events like awards shows and finales) have not succumbed.
One can point to the 17% decrease in ratings for the Olympics, while another can point to the fact that two of the past three Super Bowls have been among the most viewed ever. If the Olympics were live, in primetime, with millions able to watch concurrently, perhaps the drop wouldn’t be so dramatic. In fact, in a recent survey of sports fans, 93% of respondents said they view sports in real-time, and 73% said it was important to be able to access sports content whenever and wherever they want it. (Source)
But there’s a different way to look at it, of which many sports and digital pros can take heed. It’s past due that the old-school metrics don’t match up to all the ways content can be consumed and all the measurable activity at our disposal. When you can get ALL the numbers in one place — Facebook engagements, Snapchat views, Tweets (and Twitter video views + photo clicks), Instagram actions, streaming, and, yes, linear TV viewing.
With the cross-platform consumption habits that prevail these days, even with major sports, it’s naive to look at only at a single metric. It’s not about TV viewers, but about total audience reached.
And total audience engaged. This is where a lot of insight can come from, even as it paradoxically lends more value to the linear TV viewers, whose time spent consuming is far greater than digital consumption, at least on the surface. So now, because we can, it’s about measuring not just share of total audience, but share of total time spent consuming your content. And that content can take several forms — clips, GIFs, live viewing or streaming, photos, and even posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Let alone the conversation all that content consumption creates that further enhances the reach .
It ultimately does, indeed, come down to dollars and cents. Content consumption, especially when it is tied to a $12 billion contract (as NBC is paying for rights to the Olympics through 2032), is only as valuable as it elicits exposure to brands and ads. And this Olympics has seen the (gradual) start of the maturation of this field.
If millions are NOT watching the Olympics on TV, but ARE consuming it in some way, on some platform, then the brands and sponsors must follow. But these non-TV viewers, many of them the so-called “Millennials,” are more apt, and more able, to block the ads, ignore them, or simply not tolerate them altogether. And sponsors and media rights holders / content creators are learning, experimenting, and improving. Just look at the continued growth of P&G’s campaigns that take behind the support groups (especially Mom) behind the athletes. Or Under Armour’s much-celebrated Michael Phelps ads that feel more like a movie or documentary than an ad.
Taken altogether, what does this all mean?
First, don’t be complacent to exist in a silo. Measure your total audience, total time spent engaging with your content, and even conversation created, and content shared. (Content consumed via a share is arguably worth more, because the social proof will inspire deeper engagement). Make it an ongoing effort to evolve your metrics and reporting to, as much as possible, consolidate all the ways fans are being reached, in one place.
Second, don’t rely on live viewing that can be interrupted by ads. This model may still work today, and perhaps far longer than we’d like, but it is changing. Consumers are changing. Ad blocking is real. Closing a window or video when a pre-roll ad is simply too long or intolerable is a legitimate concern and new norm for many. As more content consumption shifts to platforms where users have more control, and do not have to tolerate ads every few minutes (remember the Olympics Opening Ceremony?), sponsors have to find better, value-add ways to capture consumer attention.
Finally, there is no sports bubble, at this time, at least from this perspective. As more sports fans all over the world have access to a smart phone (and therefore Internet), even if many more will NEVER have the means or desire to have cable, the ability to reach and engage more fans, all around the globe, will continue to grow. Imagine citizens of Tonga able to see and tweet about their trending, oiled-up flag bearer. Or fans in Serbia able to catch clips of their basketball team’s silver medal finish in basketball.
The opportunity to reach fans in greater numbers, on more platforms, for more time, is rising. TV numbers may be down, but coverage and attention of the Olympics is likely reaching a new zenith. The fans are still there, they’re still engaged. The platforms and the habits are what has changed. And things will never be the same. Nor will the metrics.