Olympic ratings have been off the charts

When the Olympics started I asked the Bookwormroom readers how interested they were and the answers were lukewarm at best.  Yet, the television ratings for the Olympics have been extremely strong.   For example, at 10:00 on Thursday night, the Olympic ratings were over 10 times those for the next highest show — 43.2 million viewers to 3.8 million. To what do you attribute such widespread interest?  And to what do you attribute the contrast between the high general interest and the low interest of commenters here?

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  • jj

    Compelling stroies develop.  Michael Phelps, who’s bowing out – or maybe not, his Mom wants to go to Rio – quite gracefully, has become very compelling as his sun shows signs of setting.  He’s a very different person than he used to be, a lot less brash, a lot more thoughtful, and people who never cared one way or the other are now watching, and, probably somewhat to their own surprise, even rooting for him.  He accounts all by himself for a visible piece of the numbers as he rewrites the record book.  He’s probably the biggest story to this point, but he should be: he’s a great story as he works to shove the sun back up in the sky and give us all one more day of summer.  And he is digging down and working- that’s compelling.  When he was a monster and it was automatic for him – not so much.  He saw off the new big name, Ryan Lochte, and he did it in the pool, not with his mouth.  Compelling.

    Everybody always loves the girl gymnasts, so when they’re around the ratings are always good.  They take up a lot of space in the first week, as does swimming, so the first week’s numbers are always good.  Next week, mostly track and field, not so good.  That’s history.  But the girls were also compelling, nothing came easy for them, but they dug down and did it when it counted.  They always draw, as they’re never certain, always a hair’s-breadth from disaster.  That’s good stuff, and it captures people.  It’s compelling, because they’re good enough that they could do it.  Back in the days when they were terrible, it wasn’t.  But now – hey, they might win!

    And then too, there’s a lot on the line this year, it seems.  Can the female eight keep such a streak as they’ve had going?  Can the beach volleyball girls keep their ridiculous streak going?  Can the swimming relays keep their streaks going?  (Mixed results so far.)  Any time there’s a team with a tradition to defend, it’s good for a few more ratings points all by itself.  It is (not to overuse the word or anything) compelling.  And we have a lot of farewells this year, which offers its own story.  Phelps is (probably) going; the volleyball girls are going; the little cox for the women’s eight is going; the pursuit bicyclist they talked into coming back one more time is going (forgot her name); half the track teams in the world have people back for their second or third run at the Olympics – they’re all going after this one.  A whole lot of people are hanging it up after these games – that’s compelling.  And so far they’ve all been pretty graceful about this year being their last, which helps the ratings.  To an amazing extent this Olympics is a lot of last hurrahs.

    Stories develop as the thing progresses.  Which is of course what the network hopes for, and they’ve been blessed this year with a lot of them.  Even people who never cared want to see guys like Phelps, Bolt,Misty and Keri, etc. for the last time.  You’re most likely never going to see them again.  All of a sudden it counts.  So people watch.                 


  • MacG

    I learned years ago that we watch the least objectionable programming not that which we’d love to see.  Most everything else that is on are repeats hence the extraordinary ratings.

    But the predominant factor may be the 8.3% that are sitting on their couches cuz they can’t find work (not to mention those who have quit looking).

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    Hi jj.  Thanks for the detailed analysis.  I think your comments are generally correct (well, I doubt the female eights have much effect on the ratings,especially in prime time), but the ratings have been through the roof from the opening ceremonies and the very first day of competition.  So the interest was high even before these stories developed. 

  • http://bigfoodetc.blogspot.com Marica

    Just a thought… what about all those t.v.’s that are in public spaces? I’m in New Orleans today and on the drive down at the gas station, and in every single solitary place I’ve seen here in NOLA, the olympics are on. I haven’t a clue if bars, restaurants, airport and other such places count in terms of market share and ratings. But if they do it may explain some of high ratings. And if it does, it doesn’t mean people are actually *watching*. 


  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    Interesting thought, Marica.  I don’t believe those are counted in the overnight ratings, but I could be wrong.  Anyway, the fact that every public television you saw was turned to the Olympics should tell you what people are interested in, or at least what folks who are in the business of attracting customers believe they are interested in.

  • Charles Martel

    My preference in sports competitions is simple: Who can cross the finish line first? We’ve been doing it for 50,000 years and the judges have yet to find a way to throw the results the way they can in sports like gymnastics.
    But I also loved watching the U.S. girl gymnasts. They were exuberant and perky in that quintessentially American way (the Russians always look like they’ve just been sentenced to the Gulag), and too good for any judges to really mess with the scoring.
    The men’s volleyball game between Brazil and the Yanks was a thrill. The speed, breathtakingly quick reaction times, teamwork, and some great faking were fun to watch. Our beach volleyball girls had me at “Hello” four years ago and I’m happy to see them use the guile and calmness that comes from age to grind down their younger, quicker-on-paper opponents.
    Enjoyed the women’s eight rowing competition—that “let’s see who can get there first” element again. Another reason is that U.S. women kick ass. (Jamaican women do, too, which is why I hope that President Romney will urge Congress to annex Jamaica as soon as he takes office.)
    One reason for high Olympics ratings, besides the bountiful bare flesh of many a comely female athlete, is that as canned and treacly as the background stories are, when it comes down to the actual competitions, we get to look at something totally unscripted. Those of us who watch TV—and I unabashedly enjoy it—get tired of seeing where plot arcs are going without even really having to think about it, or being manipulated by fast-cut editing and frantic music to react the way the network mooks want me to. But when an unknown swimmer is unexpectedly chasing down Mr. or Miss Big in a signature swimming event, I’m out of my chair. This is the real thing! It still exists!

  • skullbuster

    My wife asked me today did I think the shotput was the first sport.  Charles is right.  About 50,000 years ago (give or take a year or so) a man said “Ur ghh er alop” which means ” I”ll bet you these two mamouth tusks, I can beat you to that tree”.  Thus competition was born.  Nothing was subjective.  The winner was obvious, took the tusks and normally gave them to a woman for services rendered. Competition for food and the survival of the fittest is the reason to live.  To the victor go the spoils and all that good stuff and it’s happening in real time with no scripting.  It’s just that simple.  We like to watch winners.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    People who read and comment here are interested in what is happening to our country, and paying attention to the political situation that will have an ENORMOUS influence on our futures.
    I’m betting that a large majority of those 43 million Americans watching the Olympics for hours haven’t much of a clue, beyond what they see on their “boob tubes”.  Bunch of mouth-breathers, if you’ll pardon my prejudice.


    Meet Dr William Bell, world record holder in pole vault – for his age group. The 90-year old is the father of former Olympic silver medalist Earl and is still jumping three times a week at his son’s training facility in northeast Arkansas.

  • Beth

    We are watching the Olympics–missed the opening ceremonies but have seen most of the swimming and gymnastics.  Because we (my husband and I) are very interested in what is happening to our country, where it has come from and where it is going, it is with deep pleasure to hear our children 20 down to three yelling “Go America!”  “Go, USA”  Has brought tears to my eyes more than once! 
    Missy Franklin has become a hero in our household.  She endeared herself to us when we heard her story of wanting to stay with her family, coach, team and school friends rather than move away to train.  Loyalty like that is a beautiful thing and it has paid off for her. 

  • BrianE

    Summer re-runs?

  • bizcor

    My initial reaction to the Olympics in general is I am not enthused but then I will tune in “Oh just for a few minutes.” The gymnasts catch my attention every time because of their tremendous abilities. Even though the USA men’s team didn’t win a medal to watch these guys do hand stands, vaults, rings, etc. is riveting for me who couldn’t do a handstand if someone was holding my feet. The USA women gymnasts have excelled and that tiny mite Gabbie Douglas is truly wonderful. Her individual performance was beautiful to watch and she is so bright and enthusiastic it is contagious. I have seen some posts today suggesting some folks are a little put out that she is an unabashed Christian and that she has been thanking God and Jesus for her success. “Oh the horror.” First Chic Fil A now Gabbie Douglas. I wonder how long it will be before Kellogg’s will be intimidated into removing her picture from the Corn Flakes box. Of course with the price of corn going the way it is Corn Flakes may become extinct as no one will be willing to pay $20 to $30 a box.
    Then there is the Star Spangled Banner which always puts gives me a lump in my throat and to see these young people mouth the words to it when they stand on the podium makes me immensely proud of them. These young people understand the work ethic as they couldn’t be where they are without a serious amount of work and dedication. 

    I could do with less Bob Costas but what is most disturbing is that our local NBC affiliate is in Boston so I have to endure Elizabeth “Cherokee” Warren’s communist views on how the country should be run. Her latest is that she thinks we should be more like China. What’s not to like? Of course she also knows that small business people didn’t build those businesses by themselves. She knew the latter before BHO did. It was one of her very first TV spots.

    Sorry I haven’t been politically correct have I?  

  • Oldflyer

    I don’t know why, but my wife is enthralled.  I would say I monitor the broadcasts for the most part, but then I get caught up in many of the performances.  Even those that I do not understand.
    I am hopelessly ethnocentric; so I seldom pay much attention unless Americans are involved.  There are exceptions.  My twin grandson and grand daughter both run track, and now cross country.  Perhaps for that reason, I was intrigued by the Ethiopian and the Kenyans in the 10k meter race.  The endurance and the power were awesome.  The Ethiopian was absolutely captivating in the final spurt.
    The gymnastics, despite the historic flaws in the judging, are simply intriguing because more than most sports it seems to embody the ability to perform with grace under tremendous pressure. My career choice may have heightened my appreciation for that attribute.  The team finals seemed to exemplify the importance of this attribute as the American girls responded superbly to the pressure, while the Russians collapsed.  Did culture play a role?  Of course the American men “choked” when the chips were down, for want of a better term.
    If you can tune out much of the nonsense, and concentrate on the athletes, the Olympics offer great theater.
    I agree that Michale Phelps has risen to the occasion, as an athlete and as a person, for his final chapter.  The television people have found a new darling in Missy Franklin.  On the other hand, she insists on making their hype seem like a parody, by just being such a natural and joyful young woman.  I don’t know what all “Correctness” would dictate that we should see in Gabby; like Missy she seems to stubbornly insist that we look at her as an individual.

  • 11B40


    Answer to your question number one:  Bread and Circuses.

    Answer to your question number two:  Ability to recognize Bread and Circuses. 

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    The same thought occurred to me 11B40, but that seems awfully distainful of the general public.  I prefer (in the complete absence of evidence) to believe people get roped in for the reasons the other commenters have suggested.  There is, after all, a place for circuses.  And it is only human to root for other humans, especially ones you develop an interest in. 

  • 11B40

    Greetings:  especially “Don Quixote” at 15

    Actually, I think it was more facetious than distainfull, but I certainly see how it could read that way.  It seems that in america 2.0, the wolf of distain is always at the door.


    DayRiffer lists a number of events that were purged from the Olympic schedule. After you’ve read the list (I don’t want to give it “all” away). Come back and make a suggestion or two or three. What should be purged from the current schedule or added?  Men’s basketball is not played by amateurs from the U.S. Are you still an amateur if you’re getting paid to play? Should there be an age limit? Career amateurs – how many years? So many questions, so few answers. 


    Ancient Olympic competitions tested not only athletic skills but creative, intellectual, and rhetorical powers, as well. Poetry, music, and eloquence were just three of the “events” contested at the ancient Games.