NBC’s Tokyo Olympics ratings aren’t looking great

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So far, NBC’s ratings for the delayed 2020 Olympics aren’t quite golden.

For one, the opening ceremony garnered only 17 million viewers across linear TV and streaming, compared to the 26.5 million who watched the ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016 and 27.8 million who tuned in for PyeongChang, South Korea’s festivities in 2018.

All told, NBC hit a 33 year low for opening ceremony ratings — as well as falling significantly below the 20 million viewer mark.

For the July 23, 2021, broadcast, NBC opted to carry the ceremony live at 6:55 a.m. eastern, but repeating it later in the day. The published ratings reflect the combined totals of the live and repeat broadcasts plus streaming.

It is worth noting that streaming viewership was up 72% over Rio and 76% over South Korea, which is reflective of the drastic shift in the broadcast industry as a whole.

Viewership for primetime coverage of events is down as well, with the first night registering about 12.6 million compared to 20.6 million for Rio, though adding in streaming gets that figure up to about 15.3 million and 23.5 million, respectively.

NBC guaranteed advertisers total audience deliveries across linear and streaming — so it could end up having to offer advertisers “make good” credits depending on what their deals dictated.

Why viewership is down so sharply isn’t entirely clear. The fact the Olympics were delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and are being performed without any live spectators could be contributing to less interest.

There is some interest in better known U.S. athletes such as Simone Biles or Katie Ledecky, but it’s arguably possible that more “blockbuster” athletes could have helped spike interest.

Summer in general tends to be a slow time for TV viewership in general — though the Olympics are typically an exception to that rule.

However, it’s possible that increased interest in being outdoors, spending time with friends and family or vacationing as COVID-19 restrictions lift even as cases are spiking in some parts of the country with low vaccination rates, is also putting a dent in viewership.

Despite the ratings losses, NBC is still on track to win primetime during the Olympics, beating out both new reality programming, repeats and other programming on other major networks.

NBC is also using the Olympics as a key part of its strategy around Peacock, its streaming platform that was scheduled to roll out during the original 2020 Olympic dates.

While the games were delayed, NBC went ahead with launching Peacock — and is packing the platform with a slate of Olympics programming, including behind the scenes, roundup and interview style studio shows.

Peacock is unique among streamers in that it has a free tier that’s supported by ads and the network is leveraging that to hopefully attract more viewers.

In fact, Peacock has six standalone channels devoted to the Olympics plus a variety of on demand programming of events — much of it free. Peacock is also streaming live coverage of events in the mornings, but holding back popular events, such as U.S. men’s basketball, to those who pay.