Rio's Ratings Rebound Still Leaves NBC 19 Percent Shy of London; More Viewers Tune to Streaming

The network introduces a "Total Audience Delivery" as means of combining its complete primetime haul.
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Serena Williams

When could 27 million viewers possibly be a bad thing? During the Olympics.

By all standards of contemporary TV measurement, the first four nights of NBC's coverage of the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro have been a huge success. Wall-to-wall coverage is beating everything else on TV by absurd margins — and growing by the day. But when you hold Rio up to the last Summer Olympics or, worse for NBC, numbers promised to advertisers, these Games are coming up short.

At this point during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, NBC's primetime coverage was pulling an average 38.4 million viewers. Going into Tuesday night, the network was only averaging 27.3 million. It's a 19 percent deficit that these games will have a difficult (or likely impossible) time recovering from, even with more good news like Monday's spike.

Final ratings for NBC's coverage of the fourth night of these Olympics give it a primetime average of 28.9 million viewers. That's the most-watched night of Rio and the closest to London thus far — though still down. NBC Sports, clearly aware of the negative headlines, announced plans for a comprehensive Total Audience Delivery over the weekend. The number is intended to combine average minute viewing across broadcast, cable, and digital. The first report came out Tuesday afternoon. Monday's primetime Olympics coverage averaged 31.5 million viewers across all properties, which includes networks such as Bravo and CNBC.

“One of the indicators of changing viewer habits, especially with these Olympics, is that our digital consumption has more than tripled from London in each of the first three days of full competition,” NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said in a statement. “We’ve also been pleasantly surprised that our multiplatform strategy is paying big dividends.”

Streaming is way up — 266 percent from London, which had no simultaneous live stream available in primetime. But the sum of many parts does not immediately make up for the low note that Rio started on — or the dips on the flagship network. The opening ceremony and one night of coverage without Michael Phelps proved that interest is down substantially from the last two Summer Games.

It also leaves NBC in a rough spot with the nearly $1.2 billion in advertising commitments. The network guaranteed advertisers a 17.5 rating among households, on par with London, but Rio is pacing 18 percent shy of that number with an average 14.8 rating.

Monday proved that there is an obvious awareness of the Games, but whether that means ratings can stabilize or gain more momentum between now and Aug. 21 remains to be seen.