I know it’s early in the week for an obscure Pink Floyd reference so let me explain. The Olympics ended the other day and Nielsen is reporting some very large viewership numbers. In fact, according to the Hollywood Reporter…
NBC Universal smashed yet another historic ratings benchmark: The Beijing Olympics is the most-watched U.S. television event of all time. Through 16 days of coverage, 211 million viewers tuned in to the Olympics on NBC Universal’s broadcast and cable outlets, according to NBC citing Nielsen Media Research. That’s 2 million more than watched the 1996 Atlanta Games, the previous all-time record-holder.
Lovely story, good for NBC, go USA. But let’s spend a few seconds to look behind the numbers as an example of how one always needs to ask questions about any statistic. There are roughly 115 million homes in the US and nearly 113 million of them have a TV (112,800,000 out of 114,890,000 to be precise). There are multiple viewers per home so there are around 285 million persons 2+ in the universe base. I don’t have the 1996 people estimates but I think it’s fair to assume that ratio hasn’t changed very much.
In 1996, there were 97,540,000 homes and 95,900,000 TV homes. So whilst TV homes grew nearly 17 million since 1996, and the number of people in those homes probably grew by 30+ million, Olympics viewing grew only by 2 million viewers. Now, is that as impressive? I’d say yes, given the fragmentation of media since 1996 but one could also argue that Olympics viewing has lagged, with 10% – 15% of universe growth actually reflected in viewing. Heck, you’d expect a 15% pop in viewing just from the growth of homes.
The point is that in business, one can’t just hear a number and nod one’s head. Ask questions, look for the numbers behind the number. Challenge whomever is delivering the number to you. Great executives will beat you to the punch and make sure every number they deliver is in perspective.