NBC boss insists Tokyo Olympics will be ‘profitable’ despite massive viewership drop

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell insisted on Thursday that NBC’s costly investment in the Tokyo Olympics will be profitable despite a massive drop in viewership that reportedly has caused “anxiety” for the network’s advertisers.

Through five days of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, NBC’s average primetime audience of 15.2 million viewers is down 47% from Rio in 2016 and 57% from London in 2012. The opening ceremony, delayed a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, drew 16.7 million viewers for NBC on Friday, the smallest audience for the network broadcast since the 1988 Seoul Games.

“We had a little bit of bad luck and this drumbeat of negativity,” Shell said during an earnings call with investors.

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell insisted on Thursday that NBC’s costly investment in the Tokyo Olympics will be profitable. (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages) via AP Images
NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell insisted on Thursday that NBC’s costly investment in the Tokyo Olympics will be profitable. (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages) via AP Images
TOKYO OLYMPICS: NBC’S PRIMETIME COVERAGE DOWN 47% FROM LAST SUMMER GAMES THROUGH FIVE DAYS

“We got moved for a year and no spectators,” Shell continued. “This has resulted in linear ratings being probably less than we expected … We’re going to be profitable on the Olympics.”

Shell’s optimistic view came two days after Variety senior TV editor Brian Steinberg wrote that the drop has spurred “advertiser anxiety.”

Steinberg quoted a media buying executive who said the early viewership “clearly are not what NBC, our agency or our clients were looking for” from costly investment.

“This executive said early viewership trends were ‘disappointing,’” Steinberg wrote.

Through five days of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, NBC’s average primetime audience of 15.2 million viewers is down 47% from Rio in 2016 and 57% from London in 2012. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Through five days of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, NBC’s average primetime audience of 15.2 million viewers is down 47% from Rio in 2016 and 57% from London in 2012. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (AP)

“The size of the declines from the previous Rio Olympics have unnerved advertisers, who are believed to have invested more than $1.2 billion in the sports extravaganza,” Steinberg added. “Little surprise, then, that NBCU and several media agencies have entered into discussions for ‘make goods,’ or ad inventory that is given to sponsors when a program fails to meet its original viewership guarantees.”

Earlier this week, Outkick founder Clay Travis told Fox News that a variety of issues are plaguing the Tokyo games.

CLAY TRAVIS: USUAL OLYMPICS EXCITEMENT UNDERCUT BY MEDIA ATTACKS ON AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

“I think there are many reasons why this Olympics is tanking compared to past Olympics. I think certainly the fact that it’s occurring in Japan with no fans and with absurdly ridiculous COVID protocols that allow athletes to compete without masks, but then have to put on masks on the medal stand. I think all of those things work against the overall American audience for the Olympics,” Travis said.

Travis also feels America’s corporate media is also to blame after spending years fawning over athletes who undercut the idea of American exceptionalism.

“I think that an attack of America, an attack on American exceptionalism by the media, which is real, has certainly undercut a lot of Americans’ joy and excitement in celebrating America,” Travis said.

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“When I was a kid and it wasn’t that long ago, the medal count was a big deal because you wanted to win more medals than the Russians or the Germans or the Chinese or whoever our geopolitical foes were because competition on fields of athletic glory helped to, I would say, endorse the idea of American exceptionalism,” Travis said. “Now, I just don’t think that there’s that same level of excitement.”

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