As the 2022 Winter Olympics drew to a close, athletes counted their medals while TV networks and advertisers counted their viewers. Fears over smaller TV audiences are proving to be unfounded, with streaming a clear winner.
While NBC viewership for the Beijing Games was down around 40% from the last Winter Olympics in South Korea, nearly 60% more minutes were spent watching the Olympics through streaming services.
Before and during the Games, the low ratings and poor turnout of television viewers appeared to signal a “disaster” for NBC, the main US broadcaster, but the ratings dip may be less indicative of waning Olympics interest, and more illustrative of a change in how people are consuming sports.
Apart from the spectacular feats by world-class athletes, the Games featured many subplots that kept viewers hooked, whether on TV or on streaming services.
The Games had difficulties before they even began.The US led a diplomatic boycott over China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority population in Xinjiang province. Athletes participated, but officials stayed away from photo ops and handshakes.
Two teenagers dominated media coverage, but for different reasons. Fifteen-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for a banned substance before the Games, with the result only emerging during competition, and the International Olympic Committee had to allow her to continue competing. It’s impossible to know the damage to her career and mental health, and the situation is far from resolved.
Meanwhile, US-born freestyle skier Eileen Gu competed for China, and emerged as the face of the Games, winning two golds, a silver, and soon, even more sponsors to add to her already huge earnings.
The athletes paraded around their country flags on Feb. 20 to close out the games, with IOC president Thomas Bach telling leaders “around the world” to take heed of athletes’ “example of solidarity and peace.”
In the closing ceremony, the mayor of Beijing handed the Olympic flag over to Bach, who then passed it on to the mayors of Italian cities Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, which will be co-hosting the Winter Games in 2026.