hyde park olympic games watch ratings
5 years ago

Record digital usage during the 2012 Olympics suggests a strong staycation trend

Changes in how people vacation because of the economic upheaval since 2008 may partly explain the record ratings for London 2012 Games.

This summer, NBC notched up its highest ratings for a foreign Summer Olympics since 1976 in Montreal. With 219 million people tuning it at one time or another, NBC calls it the “most-watched TV event in U.S. history.”

Network says 219m people watched London 2012 Games, despite complaints over scheduling

Similarly, the BBC had the highest ratings in a couple of decades, too.

Are staycations partly the explanation?

hyde park olympic games watch ratings

Staycations appear to be, once again, a trend in the US and UK this summer.

Final numbers aren’t in yet, but a Harris Interactive poll in May forecast that a majority of Americans surveyed would take getaways within a few hours of home rather than travel great distances or overseas this year.

In the UK, a Travelodge survey of 5,000 British adults discovered that 41% of Britons planned to holiday at home this year – up 6% from last year.

Both surveys found that roughly a third of families were breaking up their traditional one week vacation into a few shorter breaks. Even if they traveled great distances during those short breaks, the result is that they tend to be around the house more during the summer.

Knowingly or not, many of these non-vacationers may be looking for major cultural events and news stories to capture their imaginations.

Other factors in the popularity of the greater-than-usual popularity of the Olympics this year could include the unusually high number of world records that were notched up. London engineers deliberately built their venues to improve athletic performances. For instance, swimming pools were designed for the water to flow over the sides to keep the surfaces fast and flat, says the London Sunday Times.

London’s geographic location as a time zone also mattered.

Social media may also be amplifying the importance of national and international info-tainment events like the Olympics, the World Cup, the Super Bowl, and the Academy Awards.

Digital media encourages society to split into subgroups of niche cultural and political interests, which may lead to a reaction in people wanting to connect with larger events.

Twitter and Facebook may be becoming the replacement for the metaphorical office water cooler. If so, advertisers haven’t yet caught on.

London 2012 drew a record number of comments on social networks: 36 million according to Bluefin Labs, the social TV analytics firm.

But advertisers failed to take advantage of this audience.

Nearly none of the 246 television spots placed by 140 brands across eight countries included links to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or other social media platforms during London 2012, says a study by A.T. Kearney, the global management consultantcy.

There was a failure by brands to use digital media to piggyback on widely discussed events, the way SAY Media has done to so much success with branded commercial content.

Advertisers also missed out on the mass adoption of mobile devices, which was evident in this Olympics.

In Britain, the BBC created the first truly digital Olympics. Defying forecasts, users eagerly adopted apps and mobile sites to keep up with the unfolding events during their commutes and household activities. The use of tablet devices peaked at night, typically between 9pm and 10pm.

People will debate if staycations may have been part of the trend

One exception to the staycation trend is business travel. This summer, business travelers have been on the move more than last year.

For stats, see the following infographic from comScore, the audience measurement firm, and and Bizo, the business audience marketing company.



NB: Photo by Sean O’Neill of the Andy Murray victory in London 2012 men’s individual tennis.

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Sean O'Neill

About the Writer :: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.



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  1. June Fraser

    We broke our vacation into one week in Venice and one week in Perthshire which is about 2 hours from where we live. This bears out what the article says about shorter breaks. We kept in touch with the Olympics with the excellent digital service from BBC Radio 5.

  2. Tom Trotta

    I’m not disputing any of the facts in this article but from multiple travel observations in the past 2 days, it seems that that there is a surge of travel in the NE, USA this week. I don’t think people planned vacations around the Olympics but maybe we got cabin fever or inspired to go out and do something with the family before school starts?

    • Dennis Schaal


      Hi, Tom,
      I hope that’s true! I very much think it’s good for people to travel, and the surveys I quoted were about people forecasting what they might do — but we won’t actually know what they do until after the fact. The surveys aren’t always as accurate as we’d like.

      Thanks for your comment!


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