The ratings for NBC’s coverage of the Rio Olympics fell in 55 of the 56 largest TV markets where Nielsen monitors viewership. The lone exception was the Raleigh market.
The local ratings for the prime time Olympics coverage broadcast over 17 nights on Capitol Broadcasting’s WRAL rose 2 percent compared to the 2012 London Olympics.
That’s not a huge increase, but those numbers stand in stark contrast to the national picture, where Nielsen data showed the prime-time audience fell 18 percent, to 25.4 million.
Indeed, the rise in viewers was enough to boost the Raleigh market from next-to-last in Olympics ratings four years ago to 34th among the 56 metropolitan markets, said WRAL General Manager Steve Hammel.
“We’re thrilled with the results,” he said.
A major factor in the national decline in Olympic viewers was the shift among millennials and others to online viewing, which expanded significantly. Hammel said WRAL won’t get the pertinent demographic data from Nielsen for another month but did see a significant increase in viewership/readership on its website because of the Olympics.
A number of factors contributed to the Olympics’ increased popularity among local viewers, including a contingent of more than 60 athletes with North Carolina ties participating in the games and the fact that one of the biggest names in Triangle sports – Duke University coach Mike Krzyzewski – led the men’s basketball team to a gold medal.
But a big reason for the increase, said Doug Spero, a former TV news director and associate professor of mass communication at Meredith College, is that this year the Olympics were broadcast by WRAL – which he considers the market’s “800-pound gorilla” in terms of overall ratings. Four years ago the Olympics were shown on WNCN, which at the time was the local NBC affiliate. But on Feb. 29, the two stations switched affiliations, with WRAL shifting to NBC and WNCN aligning with CBS.
WRAL, said Spero, did a first-rate job of promoting the Olympics.
In addition to a wave of promotional spots, WRAL sent three on-air personalities to Rio – Debra Morgan, Renee Chou and Jeff Gravley – plus three photographers for the duration of the games. In addition to appearing on newscasts from Rio, they also hosted Olympic Zone, a 30-minute compilation of profiles and previews of upcoming events that aired at 7:30 p.m.
“Those six people did over 100 live shots during the course of the Olympics, which is a phenomenal number,” Hammel said. “Actually ... it made for some long days for them.”
WRAL also was one of the few NBC affiliates to send on-air personalities to the Olympic trials – for swimming, track and field and basketball – as a way of notifying viewers that the station would be broadcasting the Olympics, Hammel said.
Ratings for WRAL’s local newscasts also received a boost from the Olympics.
The biggest benefit came in the late-night slot. Ratings for the late news rose from 5.0 in the two weeks before the Olympics to 6.9, a 38 percent increase, even though it was pushed back an hour by the Olympics coverage.
“People had to stay up another hour – and they did,” Hammel said. A ratings point equals roughly 11,000 households.
WRAL’s late-night ratings boost actually was less than the 69 percent jump enjoyed by late local newscasts shown on NBC affiliates nationwide, according to the network. However, WRAL’s ratings share – which measures the number of TVs that are turned on during a given time period – jumped from 10.2 to 16.9, a 66 percent hike.
Other WRAL newscasts during the Olympics benefited as well, but not nearly as much. Ratings for the 6 a.m. newscast rose 5 percent, while the 5 p.m. newscast climbed 15 percent.
Spero noted that the Nielsen ratings that really matter to advertisers are the fall and spring numbers.
“Madison Avenue buys basically off the fall and spring,” he said.