Facing disastrous ratings, NBC exec admits Olympics in Red China have been ‘difficult’

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NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua is having to admit the obvious, that holding the Olympics in Communist China in the middle of a pandemic is “difficult.”

The network has seen a depressing 50% drop in viewership from the 2018 Games in South Korea, with an average of only 13.2 million people tuning in to watch the scandal-ridden action, according to the Daily Mail.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bevacqua said, “For us, it’s been difficult. There’s no way around this. The fact that we’ve been able to bring these Games to life during a pandemic with only a six-month window between two [Olympics], the ratings are — of course we always want to have the ratings better — but the ratings for these Games, as I said, are about where we thought they’d be.”

Bevacqua notes that the “magic” that makes the Olympics great just isn’t present in Beijing.

“It’s no secret the athletes in masks, venues without spectators, so much of the passion and excitement, those great moments of Olympic athletes hugging their family and friends and spouses and partners, so much of that magic is just out of necessity not present,” he said, noting a similar decrease in 2020 sports ratings. “Look at the difference in NFL ratings in ’21 compared to ’20. I think one of the main differences is because in ’20, we didn’t have the passionate fan base in those stadiums adding to the atmosphere. We did our best out of necessity. But this year, those fans were back and the ratings showed that.”

While, clearly, COVID restrictions have certainly impacted the Olympic magic, the Winter Olympics have also been marred by the hosting nation’s horrific human rights violations, harsh warnings against anything that may anger the “ruthless” Chinese government, illegal doping allegations, and tearful athletes, sobbing from isolation in  quarantine.

No matter. There’s always Paris.

NBC is already wanting to see Beijing in the rear-view mirror, and is pinning their hopes on France in 2024, Italy in 2026, and Los Angeles in 2028  to rekindle the Olympic spark.

“Why I’m energized is I think about where we’re going, think about Paris and Italy and L.A.,” Bevacqua said. “And, knock on wood, not just for the Olympics, but for the sake of all of us, hopefully this pandemic is well beyond us by then, we have those spectators back in these venues bursting at the seams, we have those passionate family and friends and athletes without masks hugging each other and celebrating these Olympic achievements.”

“We have our eye on that normalized future coming back into focus as we work our way through this pandemic, so that’s why we’re hopeful,” he added.

Beijing hasn’t been a total loss for the network. By placing all the Olympic events on Peacock, available without a cable subscription, it has seen its streaming business grow in both viewership and the all-important advertising sales.

“I think we’ve made real drastic improvements on what we’ve done with Peacock,” Bevacqua said. “When you grade our performance in Tokyo versus Beijing, and when you see the reception that Peacock has received from the Peacock subscribers and the Peacock customers, the fact that you can go there for all things Olympic has been a nice supplement to all of our prime coverage, our prime plus and our prime west coverage.”

As for those pesky human rights violations, the executive producer of NBC’s Olympic coverage is “incredibly proud” of how her network has handled things, despite the brutal backlash Savannah Guthrie received for her live commentary , “parroting CCP propaganda,” while a Uyghur athlete was paraded in front of the world to light the Olympic torch. The video clip was promptly scrubbed from the internet.

“Going in, we promised ourselves, and we thought it was essential for the viewers, to provide perspective on China’s complicated relationship with the resto of the world,” said Molly Solomon. “Imagine in the moments when we found out that the cauldron lighter was from Xinjiang, and kudos to Mike Tirico and Savannah Guthrie, to frame that moment, to connect it to all the other perspective we had provided throughout the ceremony. That’s real-time television, a live opening ceremony, and I thought they did an extraordinary job of presenting that moment.”

Perspective. So, that’s what that was.


Melissa Fine


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