Whether the blame lies on distracted millennials or Comcast/NBCUniversal's (CMCSA - Get Report) coverage of the Games, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro failed to live up to the company's ratings expectations. (Comcast is a key holding of the Action Alerts PLUS, or AAP, charitable trust.)
The Rio Games weren't able to match the ratings from the previous Summer Games in London four years ago despite the 20% increase in ad revenue NBC collected.
Before the Games even started, NBC announced it was able to sell about $1.2 billion in ad time to companies looking to advertise over the course of the two-week sporting event. "We surpassed what we thought was an unattainable threshold," said Seth Winter, NBC executive vie president-advertising sales, NBC Sports Group, before the start of the Games.
NBC sold advertisers on the fact that the negative attention the host city was receiving ahead of the Games would lead to increased viewership. "It sounds a little bit distorted or perverse, whatever the appropriate word is, but it just raises awareness that there are Olympic Games going on in South America. And I think you'd have to be hibernating under a rock not to understand that," Winter said at the time.
However, after three consecutive Summer Games of 8% to 9% viewership increases, the Rio Games saw a 13% decline in viewership, just 7% shy of the "nightmare" 20% viewership drop scenario NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke alluded to before the start of the Games.
"We wake up someday and the ratings are down 20 percent. If that happens, my prediction would be that millennials had been in a Facebook bubble or a Snapchat bubble and the Olympics have come, and they didn't know it," Bloomberg quoted Burke as saying during a conference in June. Seemingly true to that prediction, viewership among the 18- to 49-year-olds coveted by advertisers was down 25%, according to Bloomberg.
While the ratings look bad for the company, there are silver linings for NBC, according to Action Alerts PLUS co-managers Jim Cramer and Jack Mohr. "Comcast has created a cutting-edge Olympics experience for its pay-TV customers on the X1 platform, which in turn has delivered profits in the face of weak viewing. In fact, as of Tuesday, the company had already made back in advertising sales the $1.2 billion it paid for the rights."
The top 10 advertising spenders for the Rio Games were Geico (BRK.B - Get Report) (which spent $36.2 million for 613 ad units), Chevrolet (GM - Get Report) , BMW, Samsung Mobil (SSNLF) , Visa (V - Get Report) (AAP), Ford (F - Get Report) (Dividend Stock Advisor), Citi (C - Get Report) (AAP), Exxon Mobil (XOM - Get Report) , Toyota (TM - Get Report) and Honda (HMC - Get Report) .
The London Games averaged 31 million viewers over the two-week broadcast, with the opening ceremonies topping out at 40.7 million. Meanwhile, the Rio Games averaged 25.4 million viewers. "Total audience delivery" -- which includes NBC prime-time broadcasts, coverage on the company's cable networks and digital streaming -- totaled 28.1 million viewers and a 16.0 household rating, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data.
While it was selling slots to potential advertisers, NBC made household ratings guarantees of at least 18.0 per night, a level the broadcaster reached only three times during the broadcasts. To make up for those missed numbers, advertisers were promised ADUs (audience deficiency units), giving them advertising units during other NBC programs.
"They did everything within their power to make advertisers happy. They took care of those under-deliveries ... and clients will remember that when it comes time to talk Korea and Tokyo," an anonymous advertiser told marketing industry publication Ad Age.
South Korea will host the 2018 Winter Olympics and Tokyo will host the next Summer Olympic Games in 2020. NBC recently purchased the rights for the Summer and Winter Games running through 2032 for $8 billion. (The company paid about $1.23 billion for the Rio Games alone, as mentioned above.)
Indeed, NBC was able to offer 6,755 hours of Olympics coverage, with 2,084 of those hours broadcast across its 11 linear networks. The flagship network, NBC, alone broadcast 260 hours of coverage. Cramer and Mohr noted that NBCUniversal saw a substantial increase in digital viewing, with 216 million streaming minutes within the first three days, up 260% over the London Olympics.
"We believe Comcast has created the best pay-TV experience of the Olympics by integrating digital and broadcast assets. Pay-TV operators are seeing less traffic as consumers spend more time on the NBC sports app," Cramer and Mohr wrote.
With the election season kicking into high gear and the start of the cash-cow NFL season just two weeks away, NBCUniversal should see an uptick in ratings and advertising revenue. Despite the disappointing performance of the Olympics, the company is still in a good position and the AAP team maintains a $70 price target on the company.