Rio 2016 viewing figures show online streaming is not the future – it’s the present

The Olympic Games comes around every four years, and so whilst it’s always tempting to compare the current games with the previous ones, there’s always a mitigating factor: the last one was all of four years ago.

Athletes age, new kids arrive on the starting blocks, and technology changes dramatically.

What phone were you using four years ago? Are you using the same laptop? And if you are, are you constantly frustrated by it?

So when Tokyo 2020 comes along, you’d imagine there will be severe technological advancements for everyone to coo over.

One of the guises that unstoppable tide of technological advancement has taken on this time is in how audiences have consumed the games. In the past, TV ratings for the Greatest Show on Earth would have been huge with families sitting down to watch together. This time – partly because there’s more to watch besides the games and partly because of changing demographics – American broadcaster NBC’s television audiences for the Olympics dropped to the lowest levels in years.

Though they can still hail it as a massive success. And that’s because things change.

In the last four years we’ve seen the rise of Netflix, Apple TV and Chromecast, we’ve seen the rise of people consuming video on mobile phones and on tablets and even on their laptops much more than they did four years ago.

So NBC’s 25m viewers on traditional media was augmented by 100m unique users on streaming devices.

This is an American audience, of course, which is presumably a little different from, say, a British one. Not just in terms of how media is consumed, but also in terms of the event they’re watching. Olympics fever engulfed Britain four years ago in a way that it didn’t this time around. Team GB could have finished top of the medals table and it still wasn’t going to match the London games in 2012.

But even though NBC saw a rise in streaming from laptops and mobile devices, if you think about the time zone, that makes the figures even more impressive.

Generally at the Olympics, the organisers like to make sure the biggest events take place in the evenings – on weekdays at least. That means evening in Rio was prime time for TV audiences across the United States, even if it wasn’t so easy for European audiences to stay up late to watch their heroes win gold.

That puts the streaming figures into context. Because when you think of streaming a live sporting event from a connected device, you probably think of fans watching on the go. Watching a sporting event on your phone screen is much less desirable than watching it on a large TV screen from the comfort of your sofa. At work, though, you can probably get away with surreptitious glances at your phone or a well-buried tab on your web browser.

In London, the US audience would have been following the biggest events whilst still at work during the day, but that’s not the case with the Rio Olympics. And yet the figures show people in the US were streaming more anyway.

In four years time, some new technology will come along that makes us compare it favourably to this time around and that will confirm some trend in the way we consume our media.

And if we didn’t know it already, it looks like streaming is no longer the future – it’s here already.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 836 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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