Women Dominate NBC Tokyo Olympic Primetime Coverage By Record Margin

(August 9, 2021) – Women athletes received the majority of the coverage within the 17 nights of NBC’s Tokyo Summer Olympic primetime broadcast, 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. Women’s sports were shown 57.55 percent of the time, men’s sports were shown 41.75 percent of the time, with mixed-sex sport competitions representing the remainder.

NBC Tokyo 17 Dayys Mixed

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When mixed sex events are excluded, women received 57.95% of the coverage compared to 42.05% for men.

NBC Tokyo 17 Days No Mixed

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Women’s sports have now constituted the majority of NBC’s evening telecasts in four (London, Rio, PyeongChang, Tokyo) of the past five Olympic Games, but the Tokyo margin is the widest on record. The most likely correlate, the scholars contend, is that the U.S. women’s dominance on the medals stand led to increased coverage. The U.S. won 113 medals, 66 (58.4%) by women, 41 (36.2%) by men, and 6 (5.3%) in mixed/combined-sex competitions. “The women dominated U.S. coverage,” Andrew Billings offers, “but they led even more in the medals table.” Team USA women won more medals than all other countries with the exception of China and the Russian Olympic Committee.

NBC Women To Men Olympic Coverage 1994 - 2020

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“With so many American women in contention for medals, even when they failed to reach the podium or did not win gold, it was easy for NBC to focus on the stars and stripes,” says Paul J. MacArthur. “The result was increased coverage for women Olympians as a whole.”

NBC Olympic Coverage 1994 - 2020

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Nearly all of NBC’s Summer primetime broadcast coverage usually focuses on five sports: gymnastics, swimming, track and field, beach volleyball, and diving. Each were shown in heavy rotation this year, but NBC’s Tokyo coverage frequently featured sports beyond the “big five.” James Angelini explains: “From badminton to sailing to modern pentathlon, this is the first time since our studies began that every sporting discipline was highlighted at some point during the primetime Summer Olympic broadcast. This included the five disciplines added specifically for the Tokyo Games, with skateboarding given more time in the primetime broadcasts than 28 sporting disciplines that are a permanent part of the Olympic program.”

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

Night by night breakouts are posted throughout FiveRingTV.com

Additional discussions about NBC’s primetime Olympic broadcasts are posted on the @FiveRingTV Twitter feed.

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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 a detailed 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. Split screens combining commercials and live coverage are included in the calculation, but commercial breaks are not included. The NBC broadcast network East Coast feed was used for this calculation. 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 this calculation.