NBC Advertisers Panic As 2020 Tokyo Olympics See Ratings Plunge

by Jennifer Shea
Zhu Yaozhong/VCG via Getty Images

Advertisers are not happy with NBC Universal.

After shelling out a collective $1.2 billion to push their products during the Tokyo Olympics broadcast, advertisers are now watching in dismay as the Tokyo Games’ ratings sink to historic lows.

The ratings for the opening ceremony slipped to 17 million, a 33-year low. By Monday, viewership had dropped to 14.7 million, according to the Daily Mail. That amounts to about half the number who watched the third night of the Rio 2016 Games.

In fact, several media agencies are now in talks with NBCU over “make goods”: ad inventory that networks donate to advertisers when their programming falls short of its viewership guarantees. Variety reports that ad buyers are urging NBCU to give their clients unsold Olympics inventory. After all, even with its current weak ratings, the Olympics still draws more eyeballs than most regular-season TV shows.

NBCU reportedly feels confident that it has included an appropriate amount of make goods in its Olympics sales modeling to give advertisers the total impressions they paid for.

NBC Universal Tells Advertisers to Take the Long View

Advertisers complain that there’s a dearth of must-follow athlete storylines to accompany the competition’s launch. They also gripe about early-morning coverage availability via streaming. And they’ve suggested that the lack of fans at the Tokyo Games has sapped the Olympics of its dramatic tension.

Viewership trends so far are “clearly not what NBC, our agency or our clients were looking for,” one media buying exec told Variety.

Meanwhile, NBC executives have tried to get advertisers to see the bigger picture. They point out that there are plenty of nights of Olympics left to go. And breakout performances could easily mint new star athletes.

Moreover, NBCU argues, more important than how many people see the ads is the engagement those ads generate with audiences who do see them. Olympic commercials get more attention and forge stronger connections than commercials running elsewhere, they say.

 But unless NBCU can deliver better ratings, it probably hasn’t heard the end of advertiser complaints.