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With the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea having wrapped up, Discovery Communications said Monday that it “has delivered on its commitment to engage more people, on more screens than ever before across Europe” in the first Games it has aired in 48 markets all over the continent.
The company said its Eurosport and Discovery channels, along with digital platforms, reached 386 million cumulative viewers and drew 4.5 billion views for each individual program or video watched, amounting to 1.7 billion hours of video viewed overall.
“Viewers embraced Discovery’s innovative production, overcoming a challenging time-zone difference in Europe to engage with the Olympic Games in record numbers,” Discovery said. “Discovery’s digital-first approach, including the most immersive coverage, every minute live on digital and the best experts analyzing the action in an Olympic-first — the Eurosport cube augmented reality studio — earned Discovery and Eurosport record audiences across platforms.”
Approximately 58 percent of the population watched on free-to-air and pay TV in Discovery’s top 10 markets across Europe, both on its own channels and those of its sub-licensing partners, with a record of over 90 percent TV audience share reached in Sweden and Norway.
The company also highlighted that a record 76 million people viewed the Games online, including on social platforms and through the Eurosport app, which includes free content and the premium streaming service Eurosport Player. Plus, it cited a digital engagement figure of 8.1 million for the number of interactions across all of Discovery’s digital and social media properties, including likes, shares and comments.
It didn’t detail how many new Eurosport Player subscribers it attracted, but it said over two-and-a-half weeks it gained more subscribers than historically over the course of several months. “Eurosport Player achieved its best month on record in February, with daily video views up 170 percent compared to January 2018, and average daily unique viewers up by 138 percent compared to February 2017,” it said.
“Discovery is proud of the consumer response to Eurosport’s coverage of the Olympic Games, brought to life by innovative production, the latest technology and local stories for 48 countries in 20 languages,” said Discovery CEO David Zaslav. “Our inaugural Olympic Games have surpassed expectations in terms of what we can achieve as a company, most notably with record audiences on free-to-air and pay TV services, coupled with strong levels of traffic on our integrated Eurosport app, online and through our social channels. We believe these fans have started or deepened their relationship with Eurosport, and we are excited to keep them with us for more of the biggest sports moments all year round.”
The European rights to the Olympics have typically been split on a country-by-country basis, making Discovery’s $1.45 billion deal for the rights to the Games of 2018-2024 a game changer that marked the first time the Olympic Committee has sold all the European rights to a single media company.
“We are seeing some statistics that blow us away, both in terms of the total scale of viewership,” but also in terms of reaching younger audiences, Jean-Briac Perrette, the CEO of Discovery Networks International, told THR about the company’s performance. “We have heard this sort of rumor that the Olympics as a franchise was aging and maybe losing some of its appeal. Based on the feedback and numbers we are seeing, including on Snapchat where users are younger, if anything it is as powerful as it ever has been.”
Linear TV remains key for the Olympics, he emphasized when asked about key takeaways from the Games. “The traditional platforms, despite everybody’s desire to write their obituary, nonetheless remain dominant in the vast majority of engagement and viewership,” Perrette told THR. “Digital is clearly growing, but viewership continues to be predominantly on traditional television and very healthy on traditional television.”
Linear cable, satellite, free-to-air distribution still drew “the predominant viewership in every market,” he said. In key Scandinavian markets where Discovery offered the Olympics across free and pay TV networks and digital platforms, “pretty much across the board, they reached new records,” he added in highlighting that there seems to be benefits to making Olympics content available widely. “We did see all platforms rise in those markets.”
Perrette said viewership on the Eurosport app and Player “well exceeded our expectations,” and it “is no longer just a snacking tool,” with the length of average consumption in the hours range and higher than expected.
Digital, and especially social, platforms will remain a key focus for future Olympics given growing interest from younger audiences. “The thing we need to get better and better at as rights holders is producing stories and content that resonates with them on the platforms where they want to be, as opposed to purely on the TV screen,” he said.
Social platforms, for example, can add “raw, authentic” behind-the-scenes footage to the traditional TV coverage of competitions, he explained. “Some of our most successful things on social have been some of the reactions of our announcers, calling games and goals and medal wins, especially when it’s been a surprising one,” Perrette said. “Some of that human story, which is so unique and compelling with the Olympics, is really resonating on digital in addition to the live coverage.”
The company lauded its success in attracting younger and digital audiences with up to 1,000 social-first, short-form videos published each day and Eurosport’s partnership with 20 digital influencers with 21 million followers to create a mobile-first take on the Games for younger audiences.
For the first time ever, Discovery looked to capture comprehensive data on the reach of the Olympics across Europe, using a new multi-platform measurement methodology endorsed by the International Olympic Committee. It focused on three metrics, which together capture total video, across free-to-air, pay TV and online/social for the company’s own platforms and those of its partners.
Asked about the biggest positive surprise of the Olympics, Perrette said that a few weeks before the Winter Games, ticket sales and geopolitical issues caused “a lot of negativity,” but those issues ended up being cleared up, “and the audiences responded” to this “great story.” The popularity of the digital offers and the strong showing of European teams, such as Norway and Germany, were other upside surprises for Discovery, he said.
Innovation also became a cause of pride for the company, he explained. “When we did this first augmented reality studio with the Eurosport Cube and the virtual reality, we thought it would be cool and neat,” Perrette told THR. “If you look around, it’s been [described as] maybe being the most innovative thing of the Games of 2018. As the newcomers on the block, what you try to do is hold your own and not be embarrassed. To have something that has been said by others to be really innovative is incredibly rewarding. The buzz got around, and not only did our analysts and talent love to use it to show how races were won or lost because of one turn and a leg extension in the Super-G, but athletes loved coming in, including Shaun White and Mikaela Shiffrin. So that was a really positive surprise as well.”
Overall, “Discovery’s strong start with its inaugural Olympic Games boosts confidence and support for Tokyo 2020, its future Games and year-round premium live sport coverage on its leading sport brand Eurosport,” the company said.
Perrette said “we continue to feel better” about the performance of the Olympics over the full length of the company’s rights deal, adding: “We feel better now about being ahead of plan and cash flow positive over the [deal period].”
Asked about the Tokyo Summer Olympics in two years, Perrette told THR: “Tokyo will be a whole new scale. We rose to this first challenge. Tokyo is three times the volume of events and hours, so it’s a whole new step change for us. We will do some post-mortems and analyze what worked and what didn’t work and what we want to do better and go attack the preparations for Tokyo, which frankly will start over the next couple of months.”
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