Maher: Maybe the "woke Olympics" shouldn't have taken its cues from the Oscars

Is that why the ratings for this Summer Olympiad have fallen to nearly half of those for the Rio Olympics in 2016? Bill Maher diagnoses wokery as the culprit, but he has a tough slog bringing his audience along on the argument. Commenting on a series of cancellation-style firings that preceded the Tokyo games, Maher quips, “Well, thank God we found some of those bad people now in the Olympics and not a moment too soon.”

And then his audience applauded, much to Maher’s chagrin. “That was sarcasm,” he explained:

As usual, Maher’s almost entirely correct in his focus on wokery and cancel culture. It’s worth watching the whole segment, especially his scoffing at the complaints about “cultural appropriation” at the Games. A few native Hawaiians accused the IOC of legitimizing white domination by including surfing as a competition sport in 2021. Isn’t the entire point of the Olympics, Maher wondered, to gather sporting competitions from around the world and share them? “Not everything is about oppression,” Maher says scornfully.

But it’s cancel culture that draws Maher’s ire most:

Just before the Tokyo Games opened, the director of the opening ceremonies, Kentaro Kobayashi, was fired the after a video resurfaced showing him saying “Let’s play Holocaust” during a comedy sketch in 1998.

Days before Kobayashi’s firing, a composer working on the opening ceremonies, Keigo Oyamada, stepped down after an old magazine interview resurfaced in which he bragging about bullying.

“This is called a purge. It’s a mentality that belongs in Stalin’s Russia,” Maher said. “How bad is this atmosphere we are living in have to get before the people who say cancel culture is overblown admit that it is in fact an insanity that is swallowing up the world?”

What about the ratings? They’re definitely way off from five years ago:

Through Thursday, the Tokyo Olympics are averaging a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 17.5 million primetime viewers. That number counts linear viewing on NBC and cable networks USA Network, NBCSN, CNBC, plus streaming on Peacock, the NBC Sports app and NBCOlympics.com.

But viewership is down 42% overall from the Rio Olympics in 2016, which averaged a TAD of 30.5 million primetime viewers through the first Thursday of competition. That tally, of course, does not include numbers from streaming service Peacock, which launched last spring.

The Hollywood Reporter argues that the Olympics are suffering from the same ratings drop as “linear TV” as a whole, however:

For the 2015-16 TV season, the average primetime network show averaged about 7.18 million viewers, including a week of delayed viewing. Thirty-five series (excluding sports pre- and post-game shows) averaged better than 10 million viewers.

In the just completed 2020-21 season, the average audience for a primetime network series was 4.4 million — a decline of 39 percent, only three points lower than the dip for the Olympics thus far. Only eight series broke the 10 million viewer mark for the season.

Where’d those viewers go? Well, five years ago, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu had between 40 and 50 active original series. HBO Max, Apple TV+ and Peacock didn’t exist yet; Paramount+ forerunner CBS All Access wouldn’t debut its first original series until 2017.

Now, streaming services have hosted premieres at least 47 series … in June and July alone. Scripted streaming series alone will likely count more than 200 before the year is out. That fact, coupled with millions of TV homes getting rid of traditional cable bundles in past half-decade, has shrunk the available audience.

The available audience hasn’t shrunk. Competition has expanded for their attention, but the potential audience is still 100% of anyone who can tune into an over-the-air signal. The Olympics used to be the kind of appointment event/must-watch TV that could draw a significant percentage of all viewers. In fact, the games used to make normally-casual viewers turn on their boxes to participate. If anything, the available audience should be larger due to fewer other entertainment options, as theaters remain mainly closed and restrictions on restaurants and clubs remain in effect in many places in the US.

Audience fragmentation didn’t just start over the past five years, either. The Rio games had to deal with that too, but it did have one advantage for US audiences: time zone. Americans could watch most of the competition in real time rather than tape delay, which is no doubt impacting the viewership this year. That could be the reason for a drop in interest, although it seems a stretch to claim that it accounts for a 40% drop, especially given the drama of the Simone Biles story this week.

The pernicious lecturing on wokery probably has much more to do with the lack of interest than time zone dislocation, although it’ll be tough to prove it. When considering the recent decline in interest in other woke-drenched entertainment platforms — the Oscars, NFL football, etc — one can build a rather convincing argument based on correlation, at least.