Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 23 No. 8
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Research gives NBCUniversal breakdown of Olympic tastes

Katie Ledecky checks almost every box from the survey NBC conducted with research firm LRW to determine what Americans are looking for.
Photo: getty images
Katie Ledecky checks almost every box from the survey NBC conducted with research firm LRW to determine what Americans are looking for.
Photo: getty images
Katie Ledecky checks almost every box from the survey NBC conducted with research firm LRW to determine what Americans are looking for.
Photo: getty images

Heading into 2018, executives at the NBCUniversal-owned cable channel Bravo contemplated how to convince their viewers to watch the Winter Olympics.

 

It’s not that fans of the “Real Housewives“ and “Project Runway” aren’t potentially interested — NBC-commissioned research shows that nearly nine out of 10 Americans follow the Olympics to one degree or another — it’s a question of how to turn their viewers’ attention to sports.

Armed with new audience segmentation research from NBC Sports, Bravo found the trick: A 20-second promo that looked just like a “Real Housewives“ opening, except it was Team USA members sharing their snappy, brash catchphrases. “The only diamonds I need … ” said skier Julia Mancuso with a steely glare and dramatic pause that “Housewives“ fans recognized, “are double black diamonds.” 

With a mandate to wring every penny of value out of the Olympics to make up the multibillion-dollar rights fee, the NBCUniversal promotional machine will soon reach full capacity heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

It’s a massive undertaking, and one in which the Games’ biggest strength — its extraordinarily broad appeal — has also become a challenge in an era when consumers are accustomed to personalized messages. That’s where the segmentation research comes in.

“You could go around the room and ask everyone, ‘What’s your connection to the Olympics? Why do you watch?’ and every single person is going to give you a different answer,” said NBC Sports CMO Jennifer Storms.

For the second time, NBC hired research firm LRW to help determine what each American wants out the Olympics. About a year before the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, LRW surveyed 3,002 people with 20-minute online interviews. The research revealed that the 88% of Americans who care about the Olympics can be loosely lumped into six categories:

■ 16% are purists, who love traditional Olympic sports, follow the best athletes regardless of country, and usually watch on linear TV. They skew slightly older, liberal and male. 

 

■ 12% are “stargazers,” who consider Olympians celebrities and want to know their personal drama. They tend to watch digitally throughout the day and are more likely to post online. These tend to be Gen X, parents, well off financially and highly educated. 

 

■ 20% are “torchbearers” — these are the true believers. They consume as much as they can, through all platforms. This group is often younger, and well-earning Gen X or millennial parents.

 

■ 16% are “heartstrings,” who love the behind-the-scenes stories, international connections and mostly follow artistic sports like gymnastics, diving and figure skating. These skew female and liberal.

 

■ 12% are “Major League Americans” who root for the U.S. exclusively and usually follow mainstream sports like basketball, boxing and hockey that are featured during the Games. These tend to be older, male and white, often with conservative views.

 

■ 11% are “Highlight Heroes,” a mostly younger, more non-white group that follows niche sports, wants the best competition regardless of country, and mostly watches digitally.

 

Researchers then did qualitative interviews with individuals to further test the concept. Later, NBCsports.com ran a sweepstakes that promised a chance to win an Olympics jacket if you answered a 14-point questionnaire. One million people responded.

Next, NBC linked its own research to Nielsen data, giving marketers an idea of what programming each kind of Olympic fan watches (one chart cross-references your Olympic viewing habits with which NBCU cable channels you most likely watch.) About a year ago, they ran the numbers again to prepare for Tokyo, which confirmed the general pattern.

That data tells them where to promote which athletes on owned properties, helps them target paid ads more precisely on social media, and also is available to NBCUniversal’s own advertisers.

It also helps drive fans to the right viewing destination. One persistent frustration of the “Major League Americans” is that team sports such as basketball get relegated to cable while the NBC broadcast in prime time focuses on gymnastics, track and swimming. But with sophisticated segmentation research, NBC can steer viewers to the right channels for their interests from the start.

That cuts to the core of NBC’s theory: With this level of viewer data — plus a full slate of cable, broadcast, digital and social platforms — the network thinks it can overcome declining TV viewership and keep fans engaged in ways the traditional mass-market broadcast methods can’t.

“We can be personalized,” Storms said. “We can get them what they want, when they want it, and get them to the right place.”