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NBC sees smaller audience for Olympic games

The three-week event averaged slightly more than 15 million viewers each night

The three-week event averaged slightly more than 15 million viewers each night

(Image: NBC/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

NBC’s telecast of the Tokyo Olympics drew its smallest audience in nearly three decades, according to ratings cited by the broadcaster this week.

On average, around 15.5 million households tuned in to watch NBC’s prime-time broadcast of the games, which offered edited, aggregated coverage of the games.

The figure represents a 42 percent decline in viewership compared to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, when more than 26 million viewers regularly tuned in for NBC’s prime-time coverage. Even then, the Rio games were viewed by fewer households compared to four years prior, when more than 31 million tuned in to watch the London games.

There are various theories as to why NBC’s prime-time coverage of the game drew fewer eyeballs this year: The host country, Japan, is in the midst of a so-called “fourth wave” of the coronavirus health pandemic, which prompted local officials to ban most spectators from attending the Olympic events as well as the opening and closing ceremonies.

NBC was also criticized for making it difficult for viewers to find specific coverage of individual events, with the broadcaster distributing live and tape-delayed broadcasts of games across its flagship network; cable channels CNBC, USA and the Olympics Channel; and its streaming services NBC Sports and Peacock.

For the third time, NBC offered what it said was unedited, live coverage of the games through its website and NBC Sports streaming app, but the streams — which franchised coverage from the Olympic Broadcast Network, the official broadcast pool outlet of the event — were often interrupted by digital ads inserted at random times, which sometimes prevented viewers from seeing an event in progress or the results thereafter.

NBC executives seemed unfazed by the criticism, claiming more than 150 million interested in Americans tapped into one or more of its media properties to consume coverage of the gams.

“Despite being thrown a series of curveballs over the last 18 months, the power of the Olympics delivered to audiences across the various platforms of [NBC Universal] has proven itself unequaled,” Peter Bevacqua, the executive in charge of Comcast’s NBC Sports division, said in a statement. “he pandemic fundamentally altered virtually every aspect of these Games, but our team pivoted, and reimagined, in the midst of showcasing history-making performances across 41 sports.”

NBC has held the broadcast rights to the Summer Olympic Games since 1988. It acquired the rights to the Winter Olympic Games in 2002. It has committed nearly $8 billion to cover the games through 2032.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).