Olympic viewership is way down. What’s going on?

NBC paid $7.75B for the rights to air the Olympics through 2032, and it needs viewers to start tuning in.

When you think about Olympic records, you probably think about amazing athletes like Simone Biles, Usain Bolt, and Michael Phelps.

However, this year’s Winter Olympics already set a new record — and not in a good way.

Friday’s Opening Ceremony drew 16m viewers for NBC across TV and streaming — a record low, and 43% lower than viewership for 2018’s Winter Games in South Korea, according to Yahoo Sports.

Why aren’t people watching?

It’s due to a combination of reasons.

Sara Fischer at Axios places part of the blame on empty stadiums due to covid protocols, since having fans and loved ones in the stands makes the Games more fun to watch live. She argues the same reason led to low ratings for last summer’s Games in Tokyo.

But there are some unique reasons this time around, including:

  • Olympic fatigue: Most of the time there’s a 2-year gap between Olympic Games, but the Summer Games in Tokyo just aired last summer
  • Limited footage: NBC’s crews can’t leave the “closed loop” of Beijing’s Olympic Village, taking away the ability to get shots that would immerse viewers in Chinese culture
  • China’s problem: The US and other nations staged a diplomatic boycott in protest of China’s genocide against the Uyghurs, which could be affecting viewership as well

NBC has a lot tied up in the Games

The network paid the International Olympic Committee $7.75B to broadcast the Olympics through 2032, and the success of Peacock, its streaming platform, is riding on a successful event.

But there’s a reason for NBC to be optimistic. Historically, viewership increases over the 1st week as more viewers start tuning in…

… which means we might soon be talking about NBC’s record ratings comeback.

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