Will Women Athletes Dominate NBC’s Primetime Tokyo Olympic Coverage? Recent Signs Point To Yes

(July 12, 2021) – Women athletes have received the majority of the coverage in each of the past two NBC primetime telecasts of the Summer Olympic Games, say Andrew C. Billings (University of Alabama), James R. Angelini (University of Delaware), and Paul J. MacArthur (Utica College), authors of the book Olympic Television: Broadcasting the Biggest Show on Earth.

In 2012, women athletes received 54.8% of all primetime broadcast coverage in London; the women’s proportion was 53.7% for the most recent 2016 Rio Summer Games. “It really is a ‘follow the American medals’ strategy that NBC tends to employ,” says Dr. Andrew Billings, “as the percentage of time devoted to women athletes closely paralleled American women’s share of Team USA medals in both London and Rio.” The change toward showing women athletes proportionally more is highlighted below:

NBC Olympic Clock-time 2000 - 2016

“During the past three Summer Games, NBC dedicated the lion’s share of its primetime programming to five sports: swimming, diving, track and field, gymnastics, and beach volleyball,” adds Paul J. MacArthur. “If NBC believes American women will perform well in these five sports, then women Olympians overall will likely receive significant primetime coverage during the Tokyo Games.”

The authors will post regular updates about NBC’s coverage of men and women athletes throughout the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games on FiveRingTV.com.

A complete table providing the exact amount of time NBC dedicated to each Summer Olympic sport, with breakouts by athlete sex, during the its 2016 Rio primetime Olympic broadcast is posted here.

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Olympic Television: Broadcasting the Biggest Show on Earth contains a detailed 20-year examination of how male and female athletes have been covered within primetime Olympic broadcasts. The book also has analyses of how race/ethnicity and nationality impact Olympic coverage, interviews with NBC personnel about the content and production of Olympic broadcasts, and an overview of Olympic television history. Published by Routledge, it is available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats at Amazon.com, the Routledge website, and other outlets.

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* The percentage of primetime devoted to men’s, women’s and mixed sex sports was calculated by a single researcher, utilizing a stopwatch and DVD time codes, measuring (to the millisecond) the total amount of time devoted to each event. Any time spent at the actual athletic site, on a profile about an athlete, promos about a specific athlete or sport, and host commentary about a specific sport or athlete was recorded. Olympic coverage on cable networks and live streaming was not included. Network overruns beyond 11:00pm up to the break for local news are included within the calculations.