© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony – Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan – July 23, 2021. Fireworks are seen from outside the stadium during the opening ceremony. REUTERS / Naoki Ogura
By Helen Coster
(Reuters) -NBC’s broadcast of the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony drew 16.7 million viewers, the smallest U.S. television audience for the event in the past 33 years, according to preliminary data from NBCUniversal , owned by Comcast, on Saturday.
Across all platforms, including NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, 17 million people watched the ceremony, NBCUniversal said in an email.
Streaming audience on those platforms grew 76% since the 2018 PyeongChang opening ceremony and 72% since the 2016 Rio opening, reflecting a change in viewing habits.
Friday’s audience reflected a sharp drop, despite difficult comparisons to previous opening ceremonies, when viewers had fewer streaming options.
The television audience for the Tokyo inauguration decreased by 37% since 2016, when 26.5 million people watched the opening of the Rio de Janeiro Games, and by 59% since 2012, when 40.7 million people watched the ceremony From london.
It was the lowest audience for the opening ceremony since the 1988 Seoul Games, which drew 22.7 million viewers. It was also lower than the 1992 Barcelona Games, when 21.6 million people tuned in, according to Nielsen data.
The numbers for Rio, London, Barcelona and Seoul reflect final qualification data not yet available for the first game of the Tokyo Games.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Friday’s scaled-down opening event took place with fewer than 1,000 attendees at the Olympic Stadium under strict social distancing rules.
Major absences included former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had courted the games to Tokyo, and major sponsors, as the event faced stiff opposition in COVID-fatigued Japan.
With Tokyo 13 hours ahead of the US East Coast, NBC first broadcast the ceremony live in the morning, at 6:55 a.m. ET on Friday. NBC’s recorded primetime broadcast began at 7:30 p.m. ET.
In its primetime coverage, NBC recognized the pandemic and its cost by presenting the Olympics as a positive event.
“Absence makes love grow,” said host Savannah Guthrie, co-host of NBC News’ “Today” morning show. “There is nothing like an opening ceremony to really get you excited about the Olympics.”
NBCUniversal has aggressively pushed its digital platforms this year and sees the Olympics as a vital subscriber driver for its Peacock streaming service.
The company plans to broadcast an “unprecedented” 7,000 hours of coverage of the Olympics through its multiple television networks and Peacock. These include some of the most anticipated events, such as US men’s gymnastics and basketball, on the streaming platform. It will also stream more than 5,500 hours of the Olympics on NBCOlympics.com and its sports app.
Not all athletes were present at the team parade during the opening ceremony, due to rules that require many to arrive by plane just before their competitions and leave shortly after to limit social contact.
The drop in TV ratings is part of a trend among live TV events, including awards and sports.
The February Super Bowl broadcast on CBS, a unit of ViacomCBS (NASDAQ :), drew an average of about 92 million viewers, according to Nielsen data, the lowest since 2006. The April Oscars broadcast on Walt Disney (NYSE 🙂 Co, broadcast network ABC averaged 10.4 million, a record low, Nielsen said. Audiences for the most recent Emmy and Grammy awards also hit new lows.
NBCUniversal, which paid $ 7.65 billion to extend its US broadcast rights for the Olympics through 2032, is framing the games as a “healing” event, despite skepticism from many Japanese citizens about the appropriateness of hold even a small Games during a pandemic. .
In June, NBCUniversal said it had recruited more than 120 advertisers for the games, more than any other Olympics broadcast. An NBCUniversal spokesperson said that month that the company was on track to exceed $ 1.2 billion in ads sold for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but declined to say whether it would exceed $ 1.25 billion sold last year before it. the Tokyo Games were postponed.
Ratings are not an indication of profitability. Despite a drop in general audience for the 2012 London Olympics, NBC made more than $ 250 million from its coverage of the Rio Olympics, with ad sales increasing more than 20% from London.
In June, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell (LON 🙂 said the Tokyo Games could be the most profitable Olympics in NBC history.