NBC’s Winter Olympic ratings continue to disappoint

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It was already widely known that ratings for NBC’s coverage of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing were trending down despite pairing it with the Super Bowl — but now the picture is starting to solidify.

According to the most recent preliminary ratings data available, viewership was down an average of 10 million viewers through Feb. 15, 2022.

Viewership has hovered around 12.2 million — but that’s a 47% drop over the 2018 Winter Olympics.

This data includes viewership on NBC’s broadcast network, its cable properties such as USA Network and CNBC and the Peacock streamer.

Those numbers were also likely inflated slightly by growth in Super Bowl LVI viewership Feb. 13, 2022, which was the lead in to the Olympics coverage that night. Normally networks try to program the slot right after the big game with a high profile premiere or special episode of an existing show, but NBC went right to Olympics coverage this year.

2022 was the first year the Super Bowl and Olympics aired not only during the same time period but on the same network.

NBC had been slated to have the Super Bowl in 2021, but swapped places with CBS in order to bundle the two big events together in 2022 in hopes of selling bundled advertising deals and cross promoting coverage.

It also had an ambitious plan to fly Olympics anchor Mike Tirico from Beijing to Los Angeles and then back to China.

Those plans, which NBC always said were subject to change, were eventually scrapped and Tirico came back to the U.S. early to broadcast from NBC Sports headquarters in Connecticut before flying out to California to cover the big game. He did not return to China, but rather flew back to Connecticut and anchored the rest of Olympics coverage there.

NBC Sports said the decision was made due to “coordination” issues. The network already sent a smaller contingent of staffers to China due to the coronavirus pandemic, with key commentators watching feeds remotely from Connecticut.

Despite lower TV and streaming numbers, Slate has noted that those numbers don’t count clips viewed on platforms such as YouTube or social media sites that are often a popular way for many younger audiences to access Olympics content.

That said, these types of numbers are difficult to combine with TV, cable and streaming data since they don’t necessarily represent someone watching a full block or programming.

In addition, while many of these clips are monetized with advertising, viewership there doesn’t count toward any minimums NBC guaranteed advertisers on other channels and typically aren’t able to generate as much revenue, though it’s possible that, combined, all the advertising revenue from millions of viewers could add up to a significant amount, which NBC typically has to split with whatever platform is hosting the video and sold the ad time.

NBC has not commented on if its coverage of the 2022 Olympics will be profitable or not. The network may have saved some money with reduced travel and remote production costs, but it’s still an extensive undertaking to cover the Olympics remotely.

Back in 2014, NBC paid $7.75 billion for the broadcast rights to the Olympics through 2032.

In general, U.S. Winter Olympics ratings are lower than summer Games for a variety of reasons — there are fewer events and the U.S. typically doesn’t have as much high profile participation.

This year likely suffered further due a variety of factors, including the complex U.S.-China relationship that results in America’s diplomatic boycott of the Games and a lack of many big standout stars — and at least some of the high profile U.S. athletes didn’t end up medaling. In addition, the U.S. hockey team was significantly disadvantaged after multiple popular players pulled out.

Another key factor could have included “Olympics fatigue” given that the delayed 2022 Summer Olympics in Tokyo just wrapped up less than a year ago. Those Games were postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic and NBC’s coverage shifted along with them.