NBC recently completed 17 days of mega Olympics coverage. After all of the hype, NBC came out of it a little bloodied as ratings were more than 20% down in prime time from the 2012 London Games.
Surprised? You shouldn't be. If NBC was expecting record ratings during prime time, they haven't been watching what's happening in the world in the last decade or so. Now NBC used to be owned by GE and maybe GE management didn't get this media thing, but NBC Universal has been owned by Comcast for the last few years. Comcast is the largest cable company in the country, so they ought to know a little something about media. In fact, it is because young people are literally pulling their cable out of the walls in favor of picking programming through Netflix, Amazon Prime and numerous other content systems where one can pluck exactly what they want and watch it when they want. If you don't mind losing your local news, it's understandable why so many young people would opt for this versus a $70--$100 cable bill every month (or much more depending on how many premium channels you have).
So what was NBC thinking or not thinking? First, many of the prime time events were not shown live so if you were really into it, you would have watched it on your phone or tablet during the day or while having lunch at work. It's true that live sports (think NFL) is essentially the last bastion of reliable ad revenue because people are still required to watch it live and consume the ads as part of the experience. Sure, you can tape it but then all of your friends already know the score and you have to swear them to secrecy.
Now if you consider all of the outlets through which NBC provided Olympics coverage, they still did OK, but the old standard of prime time TV will likely never be what it was in the glory days. And don't get me started about all of the negative press these games got due to filthy water, unsanitary housing, zika, etc.
This reminds me of the newspaper industry that saw the quantum change in reading habits and print advertising and just kept their eyes closed and hoped for the better rather than facing reality. It will be interesting to see how NBC handles things in Toyko in 2020.