Early Sydney Olympic TV Ratings Lag Previous Games

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Tuesday September 19 5:37 PM ET

Early Sydney Olympic TV Ratings Lag Previous Games


By Steve James

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fewer American viewers are tuning in to TV broadcasts of the Olympics in Sydney than any summer Games since Mexico City in 1968, early ratings figures showed Tuesday.

NBC, which paid $705 million for the rights to show the Sydney Games, had no comment on the numbers, which some observers say have been hit by the fact that events are being shown on tape delay because of the 15-hour time difference between Sydney and New York.

Another factor could be that the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which is airing 18 hours of Olympic coverage -- much of it live during the early hours -- could be siphoning off viewers in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle and other areas near the U.S.-Canada border which can receive CBC's signal.

Some analysts suggested audience figures would have to improve quickly or else NBC might have to offer advertisers free time to make up for disappointing ratings.

``They might be close to tanking,'' said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. ``They're not absolutely awful, but close to (the minimum) they promised advertisers. The general buzz is not promising.''

Thompson, who lives in Syracuse in northern New York state, said: ``Everyone up here is pulling in Canadian TV.''

Jon Mandel, of the New York ad firm Mediacom, which represents some Olympic clients, said: ``Am I concerned? Yeah. Am I worried? Not yet, give me three days.'' NBC is believed to have promised advertisers, who paid a record total $900 million for spots during broadcasts, at least a 17.5 to 18.5 rating.

``They (NBC) might be sweating a bit,'' said a TV industry insider, who requested anonymity. ``Maybe they'll end up giving away some stuff (ad spots).''

According to national data from Nielsen Media Research, the prime-time portion of Friday's opening ceremony from Australia delivered a 16.2 rating which means it was watched in about 16.5 million homes in the United States. Each ratings point represents 1,008,000 households.

Preliminary ratings for the prime-time broadcasts in the top 48 markets in the United States were 14.9 for Saturday -- a traditionally low-viewing TV night -- 17.1 on Sunday and 16.1 on Monday when the Olympics were up against the NFL's Monday Night Football -- a routine ratings champion.

Apart from 1980, when the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games blacked out broadcasts in the United States, Nielsen said so far, Sydney trails all previous summer Olympics since Mexico City which had an average 13.7 rating.

Munich 1972, which was marred by the terrorist attacks on Israeli athletes in the Olympic village, gained a huge 25 rating and Montreal in 1976 came close with a 24.8. Los Angeles 1984 had a 23 rating and Atlanta 1996 garnered a 21.6. In between, Seoul 1988 (17.9) and Barcelona 1992 (17.5) scored higher than Sydney so far.

NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol has previously downplayed any negative effects of tape-delayed action. ``The Olympics are a visual experience much more than a results experience,'' he told reporters last week.

But with such a huge investment in the Games, the General Electric-owned network has to hope things improve when popular events like gymnastics and basketball heat up and when track and field competition starts.

Thompson, who specializes in social reasons behind TV watching, said declining audiences for the Olympics was not unexpected given the growth of cable TV, which means viewers have more choice now than 20 years ago when there were only three networks.

Also, coming in September, the Olympics are up against more traditional U.S. sports like baseball and football.

``The Golden Age of the Olympics may be coming to a close. We are moving away from a time when everyone gathered around the TV to watch,'' he said.

``With sports, there is always that sense when you watch live that you are part of it, that you can make that extra prayer for the player to make the catch. But (with taped events) it's out of God's hands, you've lost it.''

Thompson said for many, their most enduring Olympic memory is the dramatic ``Miracle on Ice'' U.S. hockey win at Lake Placid, New York, in 1980 when the underdog Americans defeated the mighty Soviet Union in the semifinals.

``That would not be what it was if you watched it 12 hours later.''

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 20, 2000


And therein lies the problem. Why can't they just broadcast these events LIVE and let the audience decide if they (a) want to get up in the middle of the night to watch them; or, (b) tape them?

We were watching the U.S. women's softball team vs. Japan last night (and Jim Lampley was right: the freaking strike zone was as large as the Outback when it came to the Japanese pitchers) and it was horrible when you already knew the outcome.

I'm remembering the 1996 Games in Atlanta and Bob Costas' face as he was introducing yet another "U.S." taped event. He seemed so disgusted to only be able to show the U.S. athletes. I wanted to see "more of the world".

Seems like the same thing is happening now. You would think NBC would buy a clue one of these years.

-- Patricia (PatriciaS@lasvegas.com), September 20, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ