The Sports Examiner: NBC reports 160 million watched Beijing Games; primetime average of 11.4 million down 42% from 2018

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Coming off a very poor ratings performance for the Tokyo Olympic Games last summer, NBCUniversal reported even worse ratings for the Beijing Winter Games, with a primetime average of just 11.4 million viewers across all platforms.

That’s down 42% from the 19.8 primetime average from PyeongChang in 2018, which was itself considered weak at the time.

And the 11.4 million nightly average is down 24% from the Tokyo primetime average – from the same time zone – of 15.1 million.

Based on the available reports, U.S. viewer interest receded during the second week of the Games, after the 13 February Super Bowl:

● 3 Feb.: 7.235 million TV only (8.0M total audience per NBC)
● 4 Feb.: 10.758 million TV only (12.8M total audience per NBC)
● 5 Feb.: 10.146 million TV only (13.6M total audience per NBC)

● 6 Feb.: 10.999 million TV only (13.7M total audience per NBC)
● 7 Feb.: 8.448 million TV only (11.6M total audience per NBC)
● 8 Feb.: 8.348 million TV only (11.0M total audience per NBC)
● 9 Feb.: 9.787 million TV only (12.0M total audience per NBC)
● 10 Feb.: 11.088 million TV only (13.2M total audience per NBC)
● 11 Feb.: 8.571 million TV only (no NBC report; 10.7M TSX estimate)
● 12 Feb.: 8.243 million TV only (no NBC report; 10.3M TSX estimate)

● 13 Feb.: 21.277 million TV only (24.0M total audience per NBC)
● 14 Feb.: 7.874 million TV only (no NBC report; 9.9M TSX estimate)
● 15 Feb.: 8.704 million TV only (no NBC report; 10.9M TSX estimate)
● 16 Feb.: 6.419 million TV only (no NBC report; 8.0M TSX estimate)
● 17 Feb.: 6.739 million TV only (no NBC report; 8.4M TSX estimate)
● 18 Feb.: not available yet
● 19 Feb.: not available yet
● 20 Feb.: not available yet

The one real positive in NBC’s announcement was the estimate of 160 million Americans watching some part of the Games, somewhere, on some device. That’s less than half of the 332 million U.S. population and a little better than the 150 million it reported for its Tokyo coverage.

NBC did announce that USA Network averaged 1.4 million primetime viewers during the Games, excepting Super Bowl Sunday, where that game was in the primetime slot. CNBC’s primetime coverage of the Games averaged 399,000 viewers from 8-20 February. Those figures are considered quite good and USA also had an excellent average of 937,000 average daytime viewers during the Games.

Mediapost noted that “Brands from 83 industries ran 603 unique ad messages during the Winter games. Overall this came to 16,119 advertising airings and 7,383 total minutes of advertising time.”

Observed: On a daily basis, only about 3.4% of the U.S. watched the Games in primetime, compared to 4.5% for Tokyo and 6.1% from PyeongChang in 2018. And only half the country saw anything at all.

This is not so much a problem for NBCUniversal – which reported earnings of $5.7 billion for 2021 (EBITDA) – as Mark Lazarus, Chair of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, said: “NBCUniversal’s presentation of the Beijing Olympics dominated across all platforms … Over the course of the Games, we delivered what was promised to our advertising partners.”

Against the other networks, NBCUniversal won every night and the Games has been the top attraction on U.S. television for 109 consecutive (Olympic) nights, according to the network.

However, there have to be questions at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, which is seeing interest in the Games shrink rapidly. It was only six years ago that 78% of all U.S. households – about 198 million people, or 61% of the country – tuned in to some part of the Rio 2016 Games and the average primetime rating was 27.5 million, or 8.5% of the country.

We’re down to 48% of the country and 3.4% in primetime in 2022, albeit in a difficult time zone.

NBC has said it will help, with NBC Sports Chair Pete Bevacqua telling the Associated Press:

“I think we in many ways have to work internally with the IOC, with the USOPC to rejuvenate the Games coming out of Tokyo and Beijing in preparation for Paris, Italy and L.A. That is going to be a strategic priority of ours.”

Parallel to the decrease in viewing interest in the U.S., the Beijing Games saw a 31% decline in the number of news media who covered the event.

Figures released by the International Olympic Committee showed that a total of 9,388 news media were accredited for Beijing, compared to 13,608 for the PyeongChang Games in 2018:

● 1,952 press and photographers (down 28% from 2018)
● 3,607 rights-holding broadcasters (down 47% from 2018)
● 3,829 Olympic Broadcasting Services (down 6% from 2018)

Some of this decline has to do with (1) Covid, the (2) the extraordinarily difficult travel arrangements insisted on by the Beijing organizers and (3) the very high cost of attending the Games due to the Covid countermeasures.

All the better for the Chinese organizers, who had less media asking questions and looking around at the Games.

For the IOC, the assumption will be that if the pandemic is controlled, that high interest will be shown in the Paris 2024 Games. But it might not hurt to try to arrange lower-cost ways for media to attend future Games, lest the tepid response to Tokyo and Beijing becomes permanent.

~ Rich Perelman

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