With numbers for the Games collapsing, NBC News and Lester Holt focus on divisiveness.
As NBC has been anguishing over the failure of the Olympics, the network has been striving on its telecast to come up with any manner of compelling storylines to attract those viewers it was counting on tuning in. The executives might have been wise to keep tabs on other departments, as Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News managed to work against their interests. In a profile of one of the star athletes on his broadcast Holt delivered more of the very anti-social content that has been driving away the viewers.
For a variety of reasons, the 2020 Olympic Games have been a ratings disaster for NBC. From the opening ceremonies up to today, there has been dwindling interest in what is normally an audience windfall. Overall, the ratings are about -50% of the last Summer Games, with only a slight benefit realized for its new Peacock streaming service. The network is now having to make deals with advertisers to compensate them for promised audience figures, offering future ad spots with NFL games, or other options in a make-good move.
This could become a significant challenge going forward. A recent Monmouth Poll showed that interest in these Olympics is dim. Only 16% of respondents said they had high interest in the event, with 42% expressing only a passing interest. Over 40% declared there was no intention of paying attention to the games. One director of the Monmouth institute indicated what was driving away the viewers from what is normally a ratings bonanza.
“The Olympic spirit is a bit dampened this year. The delay from last year and lack of spectators have taken the edge off the typical anticipation and excitement for this event. But the emergence of Black Lives Matter in the sports world has also led to a backlash among some Americans,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Some of the marquee events have been at the forefront of this backlash. The NBA has been a center of activism, with the league experiencing some of the lowest ratings in the past two seasons. Meanwhile, the U.S. Women’s soccer team has been a constant source of controversy, electing to continue their practice of kneeling before games even when the national anthem is not played. Adding to this was the boisterous outrage from track and field participant Gwen Berry who carped about the anthem at the U.S. National trials before heading to Tokyo.
Now, this week Lester Holt had a lengthy profile interview he conducted with track star Noah Lyles. In it were many of the expected beats; we learned of his upbringing, his formative years, and the various influences on his career. Then Holt dug into some of the more recent experiences Lyles experienced, and things veered well away from pro-USA jingoism. Holt states that Lyles had his light dim this past year, a result of the pandemic, and the country’s racial justice reckoning. Holt asked the sprinter if he was suffering from depression.
It probably wasn’t until, really, the Black Lives Matter movement started gaining a lot of traction, that’s really when the depression kind of just took over. You’re hearing on the news every day that, ‘You’re not wanted’ — and as an athlete who’s trying to go to the Olympics and represent the U.S., you love your country. But it hurts even more to see that the country that you want to support so much is trying to kill you. And, it’s really hard to get through that.
Noah Lyles has had Olympic dreams since he was 12 years old watching the Opening Ceremony with his brother.
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) August 3, 2021
There was no further exploration of this sentiment from Holt, seemingly content to just let that inflammatory statement hang as he closed out the segment. For an athlete to actually believe this to be the case raises so many questions. Did this movement really deliver this message to Lyles? Does this athlete who has risen in the international ranks with the support of the national program actually believe the country does not want him? And does he really believe there is an organized effort to kill him, when he is so prominently featured and easily found?
Lyles is in possession of opportunity and a platform that is not afforded to most Americans, a position in this country that many of the BLM leadership would normally describe as being in a position of privilege. Yet here he is — on a national news broadcast, speaking to millions — describing a scenario that not only does not exist, but is completely defied by his very status in the country.
Here is an Olympic star, with every benefit afforded him, denigrating the country he is representing on the biggest international stage, and in so doing adding to the strife that is driving away the biggest viewing audience. The leadership of NBC must be scratching their heads, wondering how it is that Lester Holt thought this was a clever segment to run, as they are struggling with a ratings disaster the past two weeks.