The past year and a half has been weird. It’s hard to explain just how much has changed in so little time, but the world we live in now is an entirely different place than in 2016 when the Rio Summer Games were underway. There are gradual changes, like a shift away from cable subscriptions in US households and the proliferation of ever more streaming services.
Then, there are the significant changes. The lockdowns and states of emergency from 2020 and early 2021 are still fresh in the minds of many Americans, and, in Japan, they’re still a reality. The vaccination effort lags behind the rest of the developed world, and the public is said to actively resent the Olympic Games that have brought tens of thousands of foreigners into the country.
Modern audiences don’t have much love for cable. Current reporting holds that only around 66 million households have some form of cable in the US, including “skinny” packages like Sling TV and Hulu’s Live TV subscription. That’s a substantial downtick from just five years ago, when, during the Rio games, around 77 million people had some form of cable.
Cord-cutting is more popular than ever, as the extremely high amount of online content only becomes easier to access and more robust every year. Not to mention, cable subscriptions are expensive in ways that a few streaming subscriptions aren’t. A cable subscriber might spend upwards of $100 per month to watch a few channels. Meanwhile, Netflix is just $14 per month for the Standard tier.
Perhaps a more significant hurdle for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics is the lack of crowds in the stands. Stringent measures have been put in place to prevent close contact among athletes and staff, thanks in no small part to Japan’s current state of emergency. The global medical situation that has largely been contained in the US by vaccines continues to loom over Japan like a dark cloud.
This situation will see the games take place in a bizarre pattern, with medal ceremonies seeing athletes drape the medals over their necks. There will be no fans cheering for their favorite athletes. The Olympics are usually known for being joyous celebrations of athletic prowess. This year’s events could be a grim pantomime, an event that is taking place because millions of dollars went into making it happen, and it’s simply too big to cancel.
This twofold problem could lead to the Tokyo Olympics being the least-watched Olympic event in the modern era.