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NBCUniversal Preps Wall-to-Wall Coverage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

6 MINUTE READ | July 21, 2021

NBCUniversal Preps Wall-to-Wall Coverage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

The beginning of the much-anticipated 2020 Tokyo Olympics is just days away, with events kicking off on Tuesday and the opening ceremony scheduled for Friday. After a yearlong delay, Japan remains under an emergency order as coronavirus cases continue to rise in the region due to the Delta variant and low vaccination rates, causing much concern for community members and public health officials

It will be an Olympics unlike any other, with fans barred from attending festivities and events, along with increased distancing and safety measures in place to keep those who are attending (athletes and staff) safe and healthy. Over the past few weeks, more than 20,000 athletes, coaches, and officials have landed in Japan and are settling into their accommodations at the Olympic Village and surrounding areas of Tokyo ahead of the opening ceremonies and 17 days of competition.

While athletes have been training for this momentous event for years, no one could have ever imagined they’d be performing under such unusual circumstances. More than two dozen athletes and coaches have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days, with three positive cases in Olympic Village. Those include Kara Eaker, an alternate on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. Some athletes were relocated out of the Olympic Village and had to scratch from their events, while others are under quarantine due to being in proximity of their teammates. 

Hosting the Olympic Games is a symbol of national pride and comes with plenty of fanfare, but it also comes with significant costs as organizers spent a staggering $15.4 billion on the Tokyo Olympics, roughly 22 percent higher than planned due to added pandemic-related costs. For comparison, organizers of the 2016 Rio Olympics spent $13.1 billion, a sum paid for with a mix of public and private funds. 

Hosting the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics under such extreme conditions — no fans, increased safety measures, and more — will result in significant economic losses (up to ¥2.4 trillion in Japan, according to one estimate). In the Japanese hospitality and transportation sector alone, losses could total up to $1.4 billion.

In contrast, the International Olympic Committee is expected to make $4 billion from television rights while U.S. TV ad sales with NBCUniversal (NBCU) hit record highs. Kantar Media predicts NBCU ad sales will total $2.25 billion this year, up 20 percent from ad sales during the 2016 Rio Olympics, which topped $1.85 billion. 

“I think, depending on how ratings are, it could be our most profitable Olympics in the history of the company,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said during an interview last month. 

NBCU’s coverage of the Rio Games averaged 26.6 million viewers per night (including digital impressions), and this year’s Olympics are sure to draw an enormous crowd again. In fact, according to Sportico, the last time the Big Four broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox) “notched a quarterly increase in the number of demographically-relevant viewers was in Q3 2016,” during the Rio Olympics. While broadcast TV continues its decline in viewership, Insider Intelligence found 63 percent of U.S.-based viewers plan to watch this year’s Olympics. According to Nielsen, 78 percent of all U.S. TV households tuned in to some portion of NBCU’s Olympic coverage of the 2016 Rio Games, accounting for 198 million TV-only viewers. 

Amid the rise of digital TV viewership, the Olympics gives broadcast TV staying power for a little while as one of the global events that can break through the fragmented media environment and captivate audiences near and far. Sports fans will tune in across NBCU’s portfolio of channels, and we can expect ratings for The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, and The Tonight Show to surge. With its streaming app, Peacock, NBCU is diversifying its broadcast strategy to ensure audiences can watch wherever — and however — they prefer. According to Morning Consult, a July survey found that one in four potential Olympic viewers expect to watch some of the Games via a streaming service

NBCU will partner with over 120 different advertisers for the Olympics, including many first-time Olympic advertisers. Forbes estimates that NBCU will have more than 15,000 commercial units prepared for the Olympics and recently unveiled its Tokyo Olympics broadcast coverage plan, which includes: 

  • Wall-to-wall programming, with more than 7,000 hours of Olympic content – the most ever.

  • Broadcast services for English- and Spanish-language viewers, spanning two broadcast networks, six cable television networks, and several digital platforms. 

  • NBCSN will televise an impressive 440 hours of competition around the clock, including badminton, beach volleyball, equestrian, fencing, softball, soccer team handball, and table tennis, as well as long-form coverage of U.S. team sports in primetime

  • For the first time, an NBCU x Twitch partnership will produce and deliver live content on the new NBC Olympics Twitch channel.

Earlier this week, Toyota pulled ads on Japanese television related to the Summer Olympics out of sensitivity to the rising positive cases in the region. Adweek reported that the company is not “changing or canceling its U.S. ad spend around the event.” A spokesperson confirmed with Adweek that no U.S. advertiser has asked to cancel its Olympic plans. 

From a measurement perspective, Nielsen and NBCU will use the metric Total Audience Delivery (TAD) to measure viewership for both in-home and out-of-home viewing linear TV platforms (NBC, USA Network, CNBC, NBCSN, Golf Channel and Olympic Channel, Telemundo, and Universo), as they did beginning with the 2016 Rio Games. Adobe Analytics plans to measure streaming audiences from, the NBC Sports app, and Peacock, NBC’s streaming app. 

By aggregating the total of Nielsen and Adobe Analytics, NBCU will better understand just how many viewers are watching the Olympics at any given time regardless of the platform being used. According to Forbes, NBCU will also use Tunity to measure unduplicated out-of-home viewership across linear platforms. Consumption across social platforms will not be a part of the TAD reports but included after as TAD+. Ad Age reports NBCU recently signed a media rights agreement to retain its status as the “exclusive U.S. broadcaster for the Olympic Games” through 2032

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The Tokyo Olympics come at a particularly unique time in global history after the events of 2020, with the world coming together through sport, uniting to celebrate victories and sharing in the heartbreak of defeat as 11,000 of the world’s best athletes compete for gold. In the weeks ahead, we can expect plenty of powerful storytelling moments as NBCU and advertisers bring the Games to life through screens of all shapes and sizes around the world.

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