Olympic tales make the best stories

Rio 2016 demonstrates why the Olympics are such a compelling environment within which brands can embed themselves and establish their own narratives.

The 2016 Olympiad in Rio has once again proved that the Games are The Greatest Show on Earth, with the greatest storylines.

There were the usual scare stories beforehand about how Rio and Brazil would be totally unprepared and would struggle to put on the Games. While there have been a few teething problems, such as the predictable traffic jams and Jell-O-like fluorescent green water in the diving pool, just as there always are at an event of this magnitude, those vociferous doubters have so far been proved totally wrong – and let’s hope that continues for the next two weeks.

Last Friday’s opening ceremony may have lacked the jaw-dropping spectacle of Beijing 2008 or the celebrity power of London 2012, but it was authentically Brazilian and in many ways much better for that.

It didn’t gloss over the social problems the country is facing now and that it has faced in the past, picking up on issues such as slavery, colonialism, and poverty. It also highlighted the music, arts, and samba culture that most people associate with Brazil.

I’ve said this before, but the Olympics are truly unique in the way they bring the whole world together. And I mean the whole world – how many countries had you not heard of in the parade of nations at the opening ceremony?

For the first time there was also a refugee team, which received one of the loudest cheers as its 10 disparate members walked into the stadium. It was particularly heartwarming to then see one of the refugee team, Kuwait’s Fehaid Al-Deehani, winning a gold medal in the men’s double trap shooting final.

Kuwait is currently suspended from the International Olympic Committee and the medal ceremony was laced with sadness for Al-Deehani as he had to listen to the IOC anthem and see the IOC flag raised instead of his country’s.

It is storylines like this and many others that attract viewers to the Olympics and, despite the usual controversy about its coverage, NBC achieved record figures in the first week across all platforms.

Broadcast TV advertising may be on a slow but inevitable decline into oblivion, but it is events such as the Olympics that still attract significant live viewing – even if it is "live" in the special NBC sense – in numbers that make advertisers salivate.

Brands are doubling down on paid advertising, espcially those that are official sponsors, as well as doing their level best to activate real-time marketing and non-specific but still Olympic-themed campaigns.

The 2012 London Olympics were watched by 217 million Americans across the networks of NBCUniversal, making it the most-watched event in U.S. television history. Rio is set to go one better.

On Wednesday, NBC’s live streaming of Rio 2016 via NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app topped one billion minutes, up threefold on London. NBC has come up with a measurement metric called Total Audience Delivery for Rio, which aggregates viewership across all platforms.

On Wednesday night, that metric for primetime coverage averaged a 16.5 household rating, with 28.6 million viewers. The network brought in $1.2 billion in advertising and NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus said yesterday that Rio would be "our most economically successful games in history."

Broadcasting every event live online across up to 150 streams for a total of 6,755 hours of coverage has engaged a younger audience, figures for which are also up during primetime – 17% of adults watching the Olympics in primetime are in the 18 to 34 demographic, versus 10% of adults for primetime during the entire last TV season.

Cities where viewing is highest reflect the attraction of the Olympics to Middle America, with locations such as Indianapolis, St. Louis, Columbus, Minneapolis, Austin, Baltimore (the Phelps effect), Cincinnati, Houston, and Kansas City in the top 10. The top two markets by a long way are Salt Lake City and Denver.

So while NBC is criticized for its time-delayed broadcasts of key events neatly wrapped to fit the schedules, too much advertising, and the sexist nature of some of its coverage, it is not crying too much given the ad revenues flooding in. Mind you, it did pay $1.23 billion for the rights to show the games, and this allied to the cost of producing such extensive coverage requires a significant return from advertisers to justify the considerable investment in programming.

It is storylines such as the greatest Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, returning to his powerful best; extraordinary gymnast Simone Biles bouncing so high in the air she seems to defy gravity; swimmer Simone Warner becoming the first African-American to win gold and crying emotionally at the medal ceremony (always good for the cameras); a young Brazilian woman hailing from a favela in Rio winning judo gold; and the U.S. men’s basketball dream team clearly enjoying their time as part of the global sporting community that catch the public’s imagination and draw them to their TV screens each night.

The dedication, commitment, and sacrifice of all the athletes is fantastic to behold - and most of them are doing it because of their passion for their sport and their country, not for money.

And the athletics is only just about to start. Roll up for the rest of the Greatest Show on Earth!

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