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Tokyo Olympics’ viewer numbers disappoint

The news: The 2020 Tokyo Olympics netted the smallest audience for NBCUniversal since it began its coverage of the games back in 1988.

The problem:

  • Viewing was down 42% from the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016, which attracted an average of 26.7 million viewers, per The New York Times. The 2012 London games had an average of 31.1 million.
  • This year’s games averaged 15.5 million viewers nightly across NBC's prime-time and digital offerings for the duration of the games. In total, 150 million Americans tuned in. The event experienced hurdles from the beginning, starting with no foreign attendees allowed and ending with very few in-person spectators on account of the rise in COVID-19 cases.
  • Cord-cutting, the 13-hour time difference, and a difficult-to-follow schedule between the NBC app and the website may have contributed to low viewership as well.

The bigger picture: Despite the issues, NBCUniversal managed to turn a profit on its Olympics coverage.

  • Its ad sales were over $1.2 billion, though it did have to comp ad space to some advertisers who were underwhelmed by the audience provided.
  • The company paid over $1 billion for the exclusive US coverage rights to the Tokyo Games as part of an agreement that extends through the 2032 games.

What’s the catch?

  • Though NBC managed to turn a profit this time, given the fragmentation of audiences, the company could find it difficult to continue to do so for the next few Olympics.