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?

Starved For Sports

Yesterday the National Football League draft broadcast set an all-time record for viewership.  And it didn’t just sneak past the prior record, either — it obliterated it.  Some 15.6 million people tuned in to watch the draft, which is 37 percent more than the number of people who watched the 2019 draft.

5ea250d00ec19.image_Gee, I wonder why the viewership numbers went through the roof?  After all, the NFL draft is normally one of the most overhyped, boring events imaginable, with a bunch of delays between picks and countless talking heads yammering about the best player still “on the board.”  And this year, where all of the participants in the draft were carefully maintaining social distancing and sheltering in their different houses, there was even less drama than normal.  No rational person would spend hours watching the NFL draft — unless it turns out to be the only live event for a major sport in, say, six weeks, and a bunch of sports-starved Americans are dying to watch something, anything, that wasn’t recorded in 1988.

I’m guessing that the rest of the NFL draft will set records, too — because what else are you going to watch?  And if some of the lesser sports want to increase their fan base, they might just decide to put on some made-for-TV event that allows Americans to satisfy their lust for sports.  Badminton?  Curling?   Bocce?  They all allow participants to maintain some appropriate distance, and yet also involve that essential element of competition.  At this point, the true sports nuts would probably be willing to watch two geriatric guys at some retirement center in Florida play a death match on the shuffleboard court.

The interesting thing about the NFL draft is whether the extraordinary ratings mean anything about what fans are going to do when the restrictions are lifted and sports begin to actually be played again, in arenas and stadiums.  Will they go watch live, or has weeks of social distancing caused them to want, instead, to only watch the games on TV?  I’m guessing that there’s a fair number of people who will happily don their masks and go to see their favorite team play — especially if its an event that is played outdoors.

The Trump Debate Conspiracy Theory

If you were conspiracy minded — and who among us doesn’t have a touch of that lurking somewhere in your personality? — you might swear that Donald Trump’s shenanigans were part of a plot to boost the viewership for the first Republican presidential debate.

This past weekend, I heard a lot of talk about the Donald and the first Republican debate.  The Republican folks, regardless of whether they think Trump is great for “telling the truth” or consider him an oddball gloryhound, will be watching, and at least one diehard Democrat conceded that he probably would tune in just to see what kind of weirdness the Trumpster might produce.  Why not?  It might be good TV.  As one of the people who talked about Trump kept saying, “he’s entertaining!”

And I suppose he is, in the same perverse way that a train wreck or a messy public divorce of Hollywood celebs might be viewed as entertaining.

What does that mean for the other Republicans?  It means that you hope that your poll numbers are good enough that you get to share the stage with the guy who’s getting all of the press.  The ratings for this first debate probably will get the highest ratings for any debate, ever, that isn’t between the two nominated candidates, and you sure as heck would want to be present to have that big audience checking you out.  And if the Donald implodes — which inevitably will happen, if it hasn’t happened by then, anyway — and you can come across as an appealing alternative, so much the better.  If you’re not on stage, you don’t get any of that crucial face time before a national audience.

Could Trumpelstiltskin have concocted all of this hullabaloo as part of some devious political strategy to command as much attention as possible and suck all of the oxygen away from the Ds?  Who knows?  But it’s a pretty good conspiracy theory, isn’t it?  In fact, it’s just the kind of conspiracy theory that the Donald himself would likely latch onto.

Super Bowl Blahs

Hey, the Super Bowl is starting in a few minutes!!!

Meh.  As I’ve listened to the pre-game hoopla — which sometimes feel like it officially started before the two teams actually playing in the game were even determined — I realize I don’t give a flying fig about the game, or the two teams.  I don’t care about Deflategate.  I don’t care about Richard Sherman, or the Seattle running back who is trying to be Duane Thomas reincarnated.  I don’t care whether Bill Belichick looks like a grumpy slob in a slouchy sweatshirt hoodie.

Heck, I don’t even care about the commercials, whether there are racy efforts that have been banned, whether the Budweiser Clydesdales or Spuds McKenzie make a reappearance, or whether the ratings set a new record — which is probably the only thing that the NFL really cares about, in any event.

How many people in America, really, care about the Super Bowl?  I think more people really care about the college football national championship than the Super Bowl.  It’s so overhyped and overblown, it’s hard to really care much about it if your team isn’t playing.

How About Those Stories About Declining Interest In College Football?

Earlier this year people were writing about how the interest in college football is declining.  This story is one of several I saw pursuing that theme.

Guess what?  The news that college football is on the outs with fans might be a bit . . . wrong.  They’ve now determined that the Ohio State-Alabama game in the Sugar Bowl drew the largest audience in cable TV history — 28.2 million viewers, which just edged out the impressive number who tuned in for the earlier Rose Bowl semifinal game between Oregon and Florida State.  And the size of the Sugar Bowl audience is even more striking when you consider that (1) the experts were uniformly predicting an Alabama blowout and (2) the game didn’t begin until 9 a.m. and didn’t end until about 1 a.m. Eastern time.

I’d like to attribute the record-setting audience to the rabid fans in Buckeye Nation, and the fact that every living soul in the state of Ohio watched the game.  I’m sure that OSU was a big draw, and Alabama, too, but I think the real reason for the huge ratings is that the college football playoff has introduced a new and interesting element to the sport.  When you consider that, under the old BCS system, neither Ohio State nor Oregon would likely be playing in the championship game, you get a sense of the shot of adrenalin and excitement that the playoff concept has produced.

American sports fans like to see people earn championships on the field, not through some subjective rankings system.  Don’t be surprised if the tremendous ratings both college football playoff games received on January 1 gives a shot in the arm to efforts to increase the number of playoff teams to eight — and sooner rather than later.

A Big Audience For A Big Debate

Last night’s debate was popular with viewers — which probably is good news for Mitt Romney, who is generally regarded as having performed very well.

According to the overnight ratings, 58 million people tuned in to watch the candidates spar over the issues — a number that doesn’t include those who watched on PBS, Univision, or CSPAN or on-line.  Surprisingly, more people watched this debate than watched the first presidential debate in 2008, when President Obama was at the height of his popularity.  The TV audience also was far larger than the viewership for this year’s Democratic and Republican conventions.

I’m glad to see that the American people are paying attention to this election.  I wonder whether the significantly increased viewership for this debate may have been influenced, at least in part, by a desire on the part of some fed-up voters who are sick of silly attack ads and the squawking of the punditocracy, the pollsters, and the spin jockeys, and just wanted to see President Obama and Mitt Romney in their unfiltered state, going toe to toe.  I imagine that most people who watched the debate thought it was a worthwhile and interesting experience, and will encourage their friends to watch the next one.  I’ll bet that the audience for the second debate will be larger still.

I hope that is the case, and I hope that the viewers also are reaching their own conclusions — not about who won or lost a mere debate, or who looked more “presidential,” but about which candidate is best suited for a very tough and important job.  After all, that is the ultimate question that voters must decide.