NBC Olympics' Bell: 'Shocked' to See Digital Just 3% of Viewing

Executive producer says results prove broadcast approach works, but live opening ceremony may be coming
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In his opening keynote appearance at the inaugural LiveFronts (a streaming-centric conference organized by Brave Media), NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell said just 3% of viewing of the Rio Games last summer came via digital platforms.

The number "shocked" Bell. "It simultaneously confused and pleased me," he said. "Like, 'We're still here. Linear!'"

Heading into Rio, Bell said he had expected the digital share to be more like 25%. Going forward, "It's definitely going to shift" toward digital. Nevertheless, on a revenue basis, the broadcast network still accounts for about 75% of all money the company makes on the Games, he added.

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In the current social media-obsessed landscape, NBCUniversal took considerable heat for deciding to stick with a packaged approach in primetime on NBC, despite the fact that results of competition were already available online. Bell said he didn't expect any major changes to that strategy for future Games, though he said the Opening Ceremony could be carried live.

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Rattling off stats from the Games, he noted that the two-week event lifted NBC's ratings 70% among viewers aged 18-34. Among the stable of 11 NBCU nets, the highest total-day average belonged to NBC Sports Network.

Repeating assertions from other NBCU execs, Bell said the Rio Games were the most profitable yet for the company. He also noted that the Atlanta Games in 1996 offered 170 hours of coverage. In 2016, the number ballooned to nearly 7,000.

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