The Unwatched Olympics

The 2022 Winter Olympics are underway in Beijing. I haven’t watched one minute of the broadcasts, and I haven’t talked to anyone who has. In fact, the only reason I’m aware the Winter Olympics is going on at all is that I’ve seen news reports about how terrible the ratings have been for the broadcasts.

The ratings say that I’m not alone in my non-Olympics viewing habits. The 2022 Beijing games are on track to be the least-watched Winter Olympics in American history, with audiences that are about half, or less, of the audiences of the 2018 games . . . and the ratings keep declining. The Olympics programming is being broadcast on three networks–NBC, USA Network, and Peacock–and was viewed as a way for Comcast to bring subscribers to the Peacock streaming service. The ratings are so bad that financial analysts have started evaluating the impact on Comcast and considering whether the upcoming Super Bowl, which will be broadcast on NBC, will offset the dismal Olympics showing.

TV types also are wondering why no one is tuning in, and have come up with a lot of theories. Some point to the fact that NHL players aren’t participating in the Olympics hockey competition; others wonder whether viewers are boycotting the broadcasts as a kind of political protest because the games are being held in China. Another theory is that the crappy Olympics ratings reflect internal divisions within the United States, but I don’t see why political differences in America would affect viewership. Thanks to the COVID pandemic, people are watching TV more than ever. They just aren’t watching the Olympics.

I’m not sure precisely why I’m not watching. I don’t really care about the events, per se, but I think it is mostly that I can’t bear the over-the-top ceremonial trappings, the rote human interest stories about particular athletes overcoming adversity and other predictable topics, and the additional filler that make the broadcasts groan-worthy and unwatchable. It’s just not very compelling stuff, and with countless other viewing options on any given night, why would you watch something so leaden and formulaic?

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