Olympics Ratings Down Significantly

NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is significantly lower than the network’s coverage of the previous summer games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with just 14.7 million average viewers on Monday.

While the opening ceremony on Friday drew 17 million viewers, only 14.7 tuned in on Monday during primetime. Monday’s viewing numbers show a 49% drop from the equivalent night in 2016, and a 53% drop from the first weeknight in primetime during the 2012 London Olympics. According to Variety’s senior TV editor Brian Steinberg, the drop in viewership, combined with Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from two events and tennis star Naomi Osaka’s early elimination, have caused “advertiser anxiety,” in his words.

“The size of the declines from the previous Rio Olympics have unnerved advertisers, who are believed to have invested more than $1.2 billion in the sports extravaganza,” Steinberg wrote. “Little surprise, then, that NBCU and several media agencies have entered into discussions for ‘make goods,’ or ad inventory that is given to sponsors when a program fails to meet its original viewership guarantees.” 

One media buying executive, who was not named, told Steinberg that the ratings for the network’s coverage so far “clearly are not what NBC, our agency or our clients were looking for,” and characterized the early trends in viewing data as “disappointing.”

This buyer noted that there was a lack of must-see athletes with captivating storylines, the availability of early-morning coverage thanks to streaming, and the fact that fans are not allowed to attend the Games due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Streaming figures for NBCUniversal’s digital platforms show that 735 million minutes of the games in total have been streamed so far, an increase of 24% from the 2016 Games and 41% from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.

“Until the Olympic telecasts gain firmer traction … NBCU is likely to keep hearing from sponsors,” Steinberg wrote. 

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, on a recent Comcast earnings call with analysts, blamed the ratings drop on “a little bit of bad luck” and “a drumbeat of negativity” surrounding the event, noting that “the Games got moved a year, no spectators.”

However, “the flip side is that the digital strength has kind of offset that. … Net-net, with all this bad luck, we’re going to be profitable on these Olympics, which we’re very happy with.”

He added that there remains “a long way to go” until the closing ceremony, which is set to take place on August 8.

“We’re learning a lot as consumption continues at the Olympics,” Shell said. “Not to ruin anybody tuning in, but a big upset just happened in the past hour and you can tune in tonight on NBC to see that.”

He also said, “It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the Olympics to NBC and NBCUniversal. It’s not really financially, it’s more operationally across the company. We have 4,000 people working on it.”

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