Olympic Ratings Drop Sharply: NBC Reports 17 Million Viewed Opening Ceremony In U.S.

The topline

According to NBC on Friday’s opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, 17 million Americans watched it. This is a significant drop in viewers compared with previous Olympic Games openers. Live TV shows are also experiencing a dip across the board.

The Key Facts

NBC’s estimated 17 million viewers include both online and television audiences. It includes two types of live coverage: a Friday evening broadcast and a primetime rebroadcast that aired more than 12 hours after.

This is a significant decrease in viewers compared to previous Olympic Games. The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang attracted 28.3M viewers. In 2016, the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games attracted 26.5M viewers. London 2012 saw a record 40.7 million Americans for their opening ceremonies. And the 2008 Games in Beijing had an average of 34.9 million opening ceremonies viewers.

NBC claims that overall ratings fell this year but the average viewership of its app and website grew 76% and 72% respectively from PyeongChang, and 72%, respectively, from Rio. This is a result of fast migrations from TV antennas to cell phones and cable boxes.

Important Background

This year’s Olympics have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The Games were delayed by organizers for a year. Their rescheduled event is almost completely without spectators. There are also public health restrictions that make it difficult to watch. Some athletes have tested positive for Covid-19, while others argue that the Games should be cancelled. The disruptions might have dampened enthusiasm and caused opening ceremonies ratings to fall. Due to the increased competition in viewers’ attention, television ratings have suffered for many events. The trend isn’t just for live sports: Last year’s NBA Finals attracted more viewers than the 2020 truncated seasons, but less than the pre-pandemic years. Viewership of last week’s MLB All Star Game was down 1% from the record-breaking 2019 season; while the audience for the 2021 Super Bowl — the program that’s most watched on television — saw its lowest viewership in over 10 years.


Even by 2020 standards, the opening ceremony attracted an impressive audience. NBC claims that the opening ceremony was the second-most-watched primetime program after the outbreak of coronavirus last March. This is behind Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and programming immediately following the Super Bowl.

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It may have been the most underrated Olympics. NBC should not be concerned (CNN).

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