Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to show off as much as he could during the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. However, the ratings took a hit in the United States and were down from the 2010 ceremony in Vancouver.
The ceremony managed a 18.5/30 in metered-markets, which is 8% below the 20/30 ratings in Vancouver. The ratings were highest in northern cities: Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, Salt Lake City, and Denver. Fort Myers, FL was the only non-northern city in the top 10.
NBC ran the opening ceremony on tape delay in prime time from 7:30 – 11:30ET, which could possibly be the problem. The ceremony started at 11AM ET, but NBC, despite owning five stations, did not air it live and did not live stream it. The entire ceremony was live-tweeted on Twitter and posted on Facebook long before it aired on NBC. Many outlets reported on it after it finished in Sochi.
Yesterday’s delay could have impacted the audience level given the amount of online coverage following the games (who didn’t already know about the malfunctioning ring light by the time the ceremony aired last night?).
There were many people who expressed frustration at NBC for not airing it live. Every other country, including Canada, aired the ceremony despite the almost 10-hour time difference. NBC believes airing the Olympics in primetime maximizes their viewership and, so far, its advertisers seem to be on board with the network.
As technology advances, though, there are more ways to live-stream stations from other countries, and bootleg streams also allow people to watch the games without the delay or interruptions. They allow for spoilers, but they also bring negative attention to NBC when the station decides to edit out parts of the ceremony. For instance, IOC President Thomas Bach made a statement against discrimination. This may not be a big deal to some, but Russia passed anti-gay propaganda laws over the summer and is constantly criticized over it. NBC edited his words from his long speech. Deadspin posted the video and the viewer will notice a very awkward edit in it.
NBC also cut out the performances by the group t.A.T.u. and the Russian Police Choir, who performed “Get Lucky.” The network also cut out the performance by the Olympic mascots and the torch relay montage, leaving viewers who had heard about these performances throughout the day on social media outlets to wonder why they were not shown.
The fact that NBC has not yet joined the 21st century in the Digital Age and these edits, especially the one about the discrimination, do not help NBC’s image. Bob Costas lavished praise on Putin, and NBC referred to Communism as a “pivotal experiment.” Russian chess master Garry Kasparov, though, claimed NBC was pushing Putin propaganda.
It will be interesting to see the final ratings at the end of the Olympics and if NBC will decide to change the way they air future games.