Feb 1, 2022 - World

COVID threatens China's Olympic prestige

Photo illustration of soldiers from China's People's Liberation Army underneath a giant COVID. 

Photo Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images

COVID is likely to cause a decline in the viewership, fanfare, and prestige usually associated with hosting the Olympics.

The big picture: Empty stadiums, a ban on foreign visitors, and a COVID-powered migration among global viewers away from TV and to streaming are likely to reduce the attention Beijing was hoping to garner from the Games.

Details: China's strict zero-COVID policy has led the country's officials to prohibit foreign spectators, as well as most Chinese fans.

  • A "closed loop" system will isolate all Olympic participants and personnel from local residents.
  • Some governments have said they won't be sending delegations of officials due to COVID.

The Chinese government planned to use the Olympics for the global debut of its new national digital currency, and pressured McDonalds, Nike, and other big-name brands to accept payments in the new currency during the Games.

  • But the lack of foreign visitors and the isolation of Olympic participants will put in a dent in the high-profile rollout Beijing had intended.
  • The digital yuan will still be one of just three payment methods that foreign athletes can use at Olympic venues.

Background: U.S. TV viewership of the Tokyo Olympics last year suffered as many U.S. viewers switched to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu during the pandemic. NBC, which has U.S. rights to broadcast the Olympics, still primarily relied on TV for its Olympic broadcast and its new platform Peacock, the only streaming platform to show the Olympics, did not many attract viewers.

  • The lack of fans in the stands, and the accompanying cheering and sense of shared experience, also reduced excitement among viewers.
  • It also eliminated what is usually one of the most important and viral shots from Olympics, the video of family members of athletes sitting in the stands and then reacting to their athlete's victory.

To address these issues at the Beijing Olympics, NBC is going to simulcast athletes' family members watching from home in hopes of catching moments of joy and excitement.

What to watch: Tokyo was the first TikTok Olympics. In Beijing, viral TikTok videos from athletes may help bring back some of the viewership and excitement.

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