A new analysis of NBC's prime-time Olympics coverage shows male athletes receive more air time than women, but the discrepancy is much greater for the winter games than the summer ones.
Andrew C. Billings of Clemson University clocked all 348 prime-time hours of Olympics coverage from 1996 through 2006 — three Summer Olympics and three Winter Olympics. He found that “men athletes and their respective sports were shown a slight majority of the time in each of the three Summer Olympics telecasts, with an overall split of 51.9 percent for men’s events and 48.1 percent for women’s events.”
That close win for the men became a blowout for the winter games, which “often yielded a near two-to-one ratio between the men’s and women’s events,” Billings writes in his paper, just published in the September 2008 issue of the journal Television and New Media.
Billings does not foresee the women catching up any time soon. He notes that while a wider range of women’s sports have gotten coverage in recent Olympics, “this did not result in a net gain in clock time, as it appears to be the result of decreased coverage of women’s gymnastics.”
Coverage has “increased exponentially” for one specific women’s competition: Beach volleyball. “Part of this was likely the result of a highly skilled team (in 2004), Misty May and Kerri Walsh,” he says. “Still, one has to note that part of the appeal of showing this event more frequently could (be related to the fact it features) attractive women in swimsuits.”