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The first few days of primetime Winter Olympics telecasts have drawn in audiences of about the size one might expect — at least in comparison to last summer’s games. Going back to the last Winter Games in 2018 reveals a much larger dropoff in viewing.
NBCUniversal is broadcasting two Olympic games to U.S. audiences in less than a year, after the 2020 summer games in Tokyo were pushed back 12 months due to the pandemic. And while stacking up the Beijing games to Tokyo looks better for the company, given the myriad ways TV viewing has changed in four years — and the ways NBCU has changed its delivery of the Olympics — it also might be a better point of comparison in the current landscape than going back four years.
The 2018 comparison is, indeed, pretty dire. Through the first four days of these Olympics (including a night of competition on Thursday, Feb. 3, a day before the opening ceremony), NBCU’s cross-platform audience is down by nearly 50 percent from 2018: Primetime telecasts are averaging about 12.03 million viewers, vs. 23.92 million four years ago. (All figures are “Total Audience Delivery,” NBCU’s preferred metric combining Nielsen ratings for linear TV and Comscore figures for streaming.)
Broadcast TV as a whole, however, has declined by similar amounts in the past four years. NBC’s This Is Us, for example, is drawing about 49 percent fewer viewers (8.97 million after seven days) than it did in the 2017-18 season (17.44 million). CBS’ NCIS (11.34 million) has dropped by a third in the past four years, and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy (6.69 million) has fallen off by 40 percent.
NBCUniversal has also changed its Olympic offerings significantly in the past four years. Peacock didn’t exist in 2018, and while most events did stream live, they were only available to users with cable or satellite subscriptions. Now, Peacock is streaming every Olympic event live to subscribers without requiring authentication, a change from even last summer, when the platform had only select live offerings.
Comparing the current Olympics to last summer’s, viewership is still down — but by amounts in keeping with recent summer and winter Olympic cycles.
NBCU averaged about 13.37 million cross-platform viewers in primetime from Friday to Sunday, down 23 percent from 17.37 million for the comparable three days last summer. That’s typical of the disparity between summer and winter Olympics in the past decade. The 2014 winter games came in 31 percent lower than the previous summer games in 2012, and 2018’s Winter Olympics were 26 percent behind the 2016 Summer Olympics.
On the upside for NBCU, total viewing time spent on the Olympics passed 1 billion minutes on Sunday, the fastest a winter games has passed that milestone, per NBC Sports.
It’s also worth noting that the Olympics is delivering huge increases over regular programming on NBC. Friday’s (10.76 million viewers on NBC alone) and Saturday’s (10.15 million) audiences were four to five times larger than the average for the network on those nights.
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