Olympics Opening Draws 16.7 Million Viewers For NBC, A 33-year Low

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NBC’s TV broadcast of the Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony drew 16.7 million viewers, the smallest TV audience for the event in the past 33 years, according to preliminary data provided by Comcast-owned NBCUniversal on Saturday.

Across all platforms, including NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, 17 million people watched the ceremony, the company said in an email.

The streaming audience on those platforms grew 76% from the 2018 PyeongChang opening ceremony and 72% from the 2016 Rio opener, reflecting a change in viewing habits.

Friday’s audience reflects a steep drop, despite difficult comparisons with previous opening ceremonies when viewers had fewer options for streaming content.

The Tokyo opener TV audience declined 37% from 2016, when 26.5 million people watched the Rio de Janeiro Games opener, and 59% from 2012, when 40.7 million people watched the London ceremony.

The previous 33-year low for a summer Games opening ceremony was for the 1992 Barcelona Games, when 21.6 million people tuned in. The opener for the 1988 Seoul Games attracted 22.7 million viewers.

The Rio, London, Barcelona and Seoul numbers reflect final ratings data not yet available for the Tokyo Games opener.

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.

The ceremony was marked by major absences, including former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who wooed the games to Tokyo. Top sponsors also stayed away, highlighting strong opposition to the event in COVID-fatigued Japan.

With Tokyo 13 hours ahead of the U.S. east coast, NBC for the first time broadcast the ceremony live in the morning, at 6:55 a.m. EST Friday. NBC’s taped, primetime broadcast began at 7:30 p.m. EST.

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