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Scott D. Pierce: Utahns fall to No. 2 in Olympic TV watching

Published February 28, 2014 5:12 pm

Silver medal • It's the first time since 1998 that the Salt Lake TV market hasn't been No. 1.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Well, we finally lost our grip on the top spot in Olympics television viewing.

After bringing home the gold medal in Olympics TV viewing for seven consecutive Games — Summer and Winter — the Salt Lake television market slipped to silver in 2014. Local viewers (19.0) were beaten out by Minneapolis (19.4) — 2 percent.

KSL averaged a 21.9 rating for the Vancouver Games. So we're down about 13 percent from the last Winter Games.

What caused the dip this time around? Maybe no live events in prime time. Maybe local viewers were grossed out by Bob Costas' pinkeye. But who wasn't?

The fact remains that viewers in the Salt Lake TV market — which includes all of Utah as well as part of Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming — are still far more interested in the Olympics than most of America. Nationally, NBC averaged a 12.3 rating; locally, KSL-Ch. 5 averaged a 19.0 rating — 35 percent above average.

Clearly, it has a lot to do with hosting the 2002 Winter Games. We had never been on top of the viewing heap before 2000, shortly before the Games came here.

And it's no surprise interest remained high two or four years after the Salt Lake Games. But 10 or 12 years?

We are creatures of habit.

Like the rest of the country, our interest in 2014 waned going down the stretch. We were actually No. 3 when it came to watching the Closing Ceremony, 15 percent behind Minneapolis and 1.5 percent behind second-place Fort Myers, Fla.

Florida? Really?

Well, that TV market has a lot of older viewers. And, to NBC's chagrin, the Olympics are increasingly a TV event for older viewers.

The average age of Olympics viewers in America this year was 55 — the oldest ever. And advertisers pay less to reach older viewers, particularly those outside the 18-49 and 25-54 demographic.

(That's not fair and, perhaps, not smart. But it's true.)

It might have been worse had the other networks put up much of a fight. But ABC, CBS and Fox aired mostly repeats against the Olympics.

AMC, on the other hand, aired "The Walking Dead" all three Sundays of the Games, and all three times beat the crud out of NBC in the 18-49 demographic. The Olympics attracted more viewers for the Closing Ceremony (15.2 million vs. 13.1 million), but "The Walking Dead" attracted more than twice as many viewers ages of 18- 49 (8.4 million vs. 4.1 million).

That may explain Salt Lake's fall from the top of the Olympics viewing medal stand. Our population skews younger (to use the TV term) than the national average.

And younger viewers are less interested in watching the Olympics with each successive Games. Maybe the addition of ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle to Olympics events like curling helped stem the losses, but it certainly didn't stop them.

A lot of younger viewers were streaming on their portable devices during the day and not watching the taped highlights at night. According to NBC, 61.8 million people watched the Games on a digital platform.

Which is good for NBC and good for future bidders.

But it hurts when TV audiences age. And if that trend doesn't reverse, future Olympics may not be worth the huge sums NBC has paid.

Maybe not even a second Salt Lake Games, if we reach the point where that might happen.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.