Nobody Needed to Help NBC “Ruin the Olympics”
Do you want to see the most 2016 headline known to humankind?
My most immediate, and flippant, response is, of course: “How could millennials ruin the Olympics, when basically all of the Olympians are millennials?”
To my chagrin, I was accidentally correct with that. It looks like the fact that the Olympians are millennials is exactly what NBC forgot, in planning their Olympic coverage. Starting with the basics: your dominant American Olympians are, by and large, women.
They won 27 of the 46 American golds. If the U.S. were divided into two countries, one male and the other female, those 27 golds for the women would tie them with Britain for most of any country, put them one ahead of China, and far ahead of the American men and everyone else.
These women are mostly current or former college athletes in sports made popular by Title IX equity, beginning about 1993. Although Title IX started in 1972, it wasn’t clear what liability schools had if they didn’t follow it, at first. But, in the early 90's, toothless Title IX became “oh shit they’ll sue us” Title IX, and women’s collegiate sports exploded. Given that history, maybe “millennial viewers,” who all came of age as the women participating in sports at a high level, or knowing many women who did, are the viewers least likely to appreciate sports-illiterate reporting that ranges from dismissive to outright insulting of women athletes. Meanwhile, much of NBC’s coverage gives the impression that those running it think calling a woman a “co-ed” is relevant and appropriate.
Just a thought for NBC and whoever gets the Olympics next time. Maybe you should be marketing this stuff specifically to the audience who is actually watching this stuff because we rarely see women like us playing sports on TV. But wait, they thought they WERE marketing to women, remember? That was the reason they gave for showing the Olympics on a long delay despite the fact that it’s 2016 and we all have the internet which tells us what happened in competition during the day!
The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey,” John Miller, NBC’s Olympics chief marketing officer, told reporters recently. “It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one. And to tell the truth, it has been the complaint of a few sports writers. It has not been the complaint of the vast viewing public.
They knew women between 18–49 were their target, and this is the garbage they came up with to give us a reason to watch the Olympics on TV: delayed athletic events and reality-show pablum. They really thought “human interest” stories where an old white man bullies Simone Biles about how she’s adopted, or acts like the most important thing about Kerri Walsh-Jennings is that she had 3 kids, were a value-add for their audience!
Now, apparently, this is our fault. Because the internet exists, and it’s more entertaining and less overtly sexist than the crap they broadcast.
Back in June, NBCUniversial CEO Steve Burke described the worst case scenario for the Olympic 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.
Once again: this man described this scenario MONTHS ago. He knew that he had a problem attracting viewers to TV. He knew women were going to be watching in droves. He knew American women won more medals than American men did in London and would likely repeat in Rio. And, he knew a large proportion of American competitors and medal-winners would be women ages 18–35, and women of color, specifically. So, instead of crafting an integrated social media strategy and making sure NBC’s commentators reflected both the competitors and the audience (or at least didn’t outright insult them), the CEO of NBC did the only reasonable thing. He pretended he was the Babe Ruth of abject failure, pointed out where and how he would fuck up, and then sallied forth post haste to do just that.
This is even more preposterous when you consider that Leslie Jones (age 48, not even a millennial) had such great social media engagement that NBC was essentially forced by her audience to fly her to Rio. This means NBC couldn’t figure out on their own how to utilize a former female Division I NCAA athlete, who is a Black woman and social media-savvy comedian whose movie just came out. That amazing hook for millennial women was just sitting there at NBC’s fingertips and they didn’t even think of it, and then, after being forced to recognize Jones’ talent for attracting the exact viewers they were looking for, NBC barely even integrated Jones into their TV coverage. The Girl from Ipanema (who is 70, and seems lovely), the “namesake” of a hit song FROM NINETEEN SIXTY-FOUR, FOR GOD’s SAKE, got more TV attention than Leslie Jones did. Meanwhile, where did all the best parts of Jones’ coverage stay? On social media!
NBC, bless your heart. You are truly terrible at this.