No, Bloomberg, the Olympics didn’t stumble because of Millennials. It stumbled because of NBC.

Bloomberg and NBC want to blame the audience for not participating in their content the way they expected them to. But if the results were not what they expected, perhaps they should consider that maybe the problem is with the product.

On Friday of last week, Bloomberg wrote an insulting piece outlining the viewership stumbling blocks that NBC has faced with the 2016 Olympics in Rio, particularly with the coveted 18–49 age block which dropped 25%. Ok, so way more than Millennials, but I’ll continue to read. The article goes on to loosely blame the regulars like Snapchat and Netflix, with very little (read: none) criticism at NBC’s presentation of the Olympics themselves, from the actual coverage, to the user experience of the platforms.

On the opening night of the Olympics, I came home from work and set out to figure out the best way to watch the Opening Ceremony live. As a multimedia professional, the Olympics Opening Ceremony is a wonderland of what’s possible with today’s video and presentation technology, something to marvel at every four years. I’ve been a cord cutter for about 8 years now, so let’s see what what this experience was like for what is a growing segment of the population, particularly in that 18–49 year old demographic Bloomberg was referring to.

Step 1: Apple TV — 20 minutes

Our 4th Generation Apple TV is the staple of our home entertainment experience. I came home to find that my fiancée had installed the NBC Sports app, and was watching the player profiles. I thought our work here was done. But after a uninteresting featurette started playing, we temporarily left the streaming video, and realized we were not watching the live broadcast, but a piece put up on demand. So we went to the Live tab, and again, were greeted with on demand pieces, with no option to actually view live. OK, so lets try and sign in. My company has a few set top boxes I help manage, so I thought I’d give it a shot. The app requested I visit an activation URL from a desktop computer (why it can’t handle it in App is beyond me but possibly a limitation on Apple’s behalf, though I doubt it). After authenticating, I’m informed we don’t have an NBC Sports subscription so the content is not available to me. FINE. But we DO have NBC. So I download NBC’s app, have to go through the authentication process a SECOND time (note: this will be streamlined in the tvOS update this Fall with Single Sign On). This go around is successful, however, NBC’s app does not support streaming, at least in my area. Beaten and frustrated, I move on to the internet.

Step 2: The Web Browser — 20 minutes

I start with the most obvious of locations, the NBC Olympics portal. The design is clunky but seems feature rich overall. Notably missing is a real schedule — I can look up the schedule by event, but it’s clunky at best, and Google’s Olympic schedule bested everything I had seen and converted all of the times automatically to my time zone. +1 for Google.

I finally navigate to the live portal where I’m greeted with the live feed, at least in the NBC Primetime programming sense of the word. Perfect! I’m done! Except there’s a little timer warning me that this is a preview and I need to authenticate in order to watch for an unlimited time. DAMNIT. This is a PUBLIC AIRWAVES BROADCASTING COMPANY! This alone would be enough to turn me off as a Millennial.

As a consumer, if I’m making a decision the day of the Opening Ceremony to view the Olympics, I’m being told by NBC that if I want to watch, I now need to A) Find a cable company I don’t totally despise, B) wait 3–5 days minimum to schedule installation, and C) take a full day off of work so I can be present while the technician plugs in a box into the pre-existing coaxial outlet in my apartment, something I’m fully capable of as an adult that can read simple instructions.

Again, luckily I have access to some minimum subscriptions, including NBC, so I go through the authentication process. But after going through authentication, I’m again told I don’t have the right package. But we do have NBC, so what gives? All I could gather (because useful error messages are a lot to ask for) is it’s either because A) NBC doesn’t stream in my area, or B) I don’t have the NBC Sports package. Fine. Whatever.

Step 3: Over The Air — 20 minutes

The last resort of every cord cutter everywhere is a television antenna, if you even own one. With our monthly bill for Hulu, Netflix, and HBO, our antenna is rarely hooked up outside of Football season, so I set out to get it plugged in, an annoying task for any mounted flat television. I have to google what our local NBC channel is because I have no idea, and when I finally land on it, I now set out to actually get signal because NBC is so weak in our building. After trying for about 10 minutes, I finally get something stable. It still cuts out every two minutes or so, hence my preference for streaming, but it’s tolerable (not exactly the word you want associated with your brand).


I’ve been working on this for around an hour, and am really only seeing this through at this point because it’s important to my fiancée. I’m annoyed, I’m tired, but I feel like we’ve finally made it, with about 10 minutes to spare. There’s commercial after commercial playing, but I feel this is an acceptable trade off — I’d much rather prefer NBC front load the commercial experience so I can have a fairly uninterrupted presentation of this culturally significant opening event.

The show starts, and while the commentary is lowest common denominator at best, it’s, again, tolerable. We settle in and relax. The next 20 minutes was some of the worst programming decisions I’ve witnessed in my entire life. My assumption was quickly proved wrong about 5 minutes in, when Matt Lauer informs me we’re going to a commercial break in the middle of the opening. After sitting through the same Nationwide and Chevy spots as I had just 10 minutes ago, we come back to the ceremony, and even though we’re watching the Mountain Standard Time delay feed, we’ve missed parts of the ceremony. We had just settled back into the rhythm of the presentation, when it’s back to commercials. It’s roughly the same ones we just saw, and again we return with time having passed in the ceremony, dropping us back in wherever NBC saw fit. It wasn’t until NBC cut out of “The History of Brazil” piece for yet another commercial break that I finally just turned the TV off.

We weren’t watching the Olympics Ceremony. We were watching advertising that happened to have bits and pieces of the ceremony in between them.

And Finally: The Olympics

Several days later, my fiancée had friends in town that wanted to watch the Olympics at our apartment, so we sat and watched the Swimming and Gymnastics primetime presentation. It opened with Simone Biles and Co., but then, despite being filmed earlier in the day, inexplicably goes from the earlier rounds of Gymnastics to Swimming. Hours pass before we finally get to see the resolution to those Gymnastics rounds, even though Simone Biles and Michael Phelps both easily served as headlines for Primetime. Why they decided to split them up is beyond me.

We had reception issues due to a storm the following night, so I bit the bullet and bought a SlingTV subscription. NBC is included in package description, so I go for it. However, apparently Denver is not part of the “In Select Markets”. That’s fine, now I can finally authorize my account for NBC Sports. Except NBC doesn’t recognize Sling TV as an acceptable Cable subscription, despite being precisely that — a cable subscription. I give up, and we watch the broken up broadcast feed.

NBC: A Post Mortem

I was tempted to shorten this article, but then the lengths of measure I had to take to view something that is available for free over the airwaves show there is clearly a problem. I’m sure NBC were patting themselves on the backs for how easy it would be to watch online this year, but that’s only true for cable subscribers, a slowly shrinking percentage of the US population, especially for Millennials. The reason NBC is losing Millennials to other platforms for entertainment is because all of those platforms have lowered the barriers to enjoy the programming. I can sign up for Hulu, Netflix, and HBO nearly in an instant. Oh, and did I mention they’re all ad free (with a premium on Hulu)?

Had NBC offered the entire Olympic Platform for a small fee (less than $10), they probably would have seen their Millennial numbers skyrocket. Hell, they could have charged $5 more for an “Ad Free” presentation and padded their pockets even more. But instead, they relied on the old dying models of traditional broadcast network and revenue models of years past, and it bit them in the ass. And this doesn’t even touch the philosophical debate of “Why do I need a subscription for a network that broadcasts on public airwaves anyways”? Or “Who the hell cares what Hoda thinks about the Opening Ceremony?” It’s a presentation, it doesn’t need commentary. We can draw our own conclusions, and if we’re curious about something, you can help fill in the gaps during the recap. They sound like idiots trying to speak to idiots. Treat your audience like they’re intelligent and you might improve the overall public discourse.

It’s worth noting that if you want to view any of this content in its entirety on demand, NBC still has a authentication wall up on the Olympics Platform page.

This kind of programming doesn’t work for us. It’s one thing that you don’t have live coverage, even though our phones are buzzing us to notify who the winners of the big events are as they happen. It’s one thing to show an INSANE amount of advertising, usually from the same group of companies, over and over and over again. It’s one thing to inexplicably break up event coverage, even though we’re not watching live and you’ve had plenty of time to repackage the content as you’ve seen fit. Put all of those things together, and it just amounts to a terrible user experience, where the only laughing matter is how NBC could possibly be confused by the outcome.

Bloomberg and NBC want to blame the audience for not participating in their content the way they expected them to. But if the results were not what they expected, perhaps they should consider that maybe the problem is with the product.