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NBC Draws Lowest Olympics Viewership In 33 Years Amid Displays Of Political Activism

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OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion


This year’s Olympics are nowhere as popular as previous incarnations of the event. Following a year-long delay and a severe restriction on live audience numbers, the Tokyo Olympics drew a meager 16.7 million viewers for NBC on Friday, the smallest audience for the network broadcast in the past 33 years — a ratings disaster from the network.

According to NBC parent company NBCUniversal on Saturday, the viewership of the Tokyo Olympics dropped by 37% from the Rio de Janeiro opening ceremony in 2016, when 26.5 million people watched the show. The numbers are also down by 59% from 2012, when 40.7 million viewers tuned in to watch the London opening ceremony. According to NBCUniversal, the Tokyo ratings factored in both the live broadcast and a primetime re-airing of the show.

The numbers were calculated across all platforms, including NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, which saw disappointing ratings in spite of the network’s strong push for its digital platforms over the past two years.

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The dip in the numbers may reflect the public’s fatigue of virtue signaling athletes who have, in recent days, taken a knee to the U.S. national anthem, and worn jerseys that read “Black Lives Matter.” At the Olympics, Team USA soccer players Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, and others, were among the first to use the Olympic platform for a display of activism, according to Today. They were joined by the Swedish women’s team.

Ahead of the event, world soccer governing body FIFA informed referees to “apply common sense” and allow players to wear t-shirts and apparel with woke political messages that were previously prohibited in the professional tournament.

Reuters, which reported the news, described it as a “steep drop” – the lowest the event has seen since the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Even the NCAA Basketball Championship on CBS drew more viewers than the Olympics.

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Reuters noted that the drop in viewership was severe, despite the difficulty in comparing the numbers with previous opening ceremonies when viewers had fewer streaming options.

Reuters continued:

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It was the lowest audience for the opening ceremony since the 1988 Seoul Games, which attracted 22.7 million TV viewers. It was also lower than the 1992 Barcelona Games, when 21.6 million people tuned in, according to Nielsen data.

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

Fox News reports:

Taking into account viewers on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, 17 million people watched the ceremony, according to NBCUniversal. The streaming audience on those platforms increased 76% from the 2018 PyeongChang opening ceremony and 72% from 2016 in Rio.

Comparatively, analysts said that the Friday broadcast drew fewer viewers than Sunday Night Football and Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle this past March.

Sports journalist Austin Karp reported:

What’s 17 million these days?

“Sunday Night Football” on NBC averaged 17.3 million for the most recent season.

Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry averaged 17.8 million on CBS.

Baylor-Gonzaga men’s NCAA Basketball Championship averaged 16.9 million on CBS

Sports writer Richard Deitsch noted, “Your first benchmark of Olympic viewing over the next two weeks and not a happy one for NBCUniversal.”

NBC Sports, defending the drop in viewers with “context”, said that viewership over the last five years have been down 68 percent to 72 percent in viewership. The company posted the context in response to Karp’s numbers.

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Fox News reported:

While most Olympic opening ceremonies have enjoyed packed stadiums, Friday’s unprecedented event featured only 1,000 spectators in the stands, one of whom was first lady Jill Biden. Organizers had initially planned to allow Olympic venues to be filled to 50% capacity but crowds not to exceed 10,000. However, they ultimately decided against spectators following a recent rise in COVID cases that prompted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to announce a state of emergency.

“Taking into consideration the impact of the delta strain, and in order to prevent the resurgence of infections from spreading across the country, we need to step up virus prevention measures,” Suga said of the decision.

As a result of the pandemic, the Friday opening was incredibly scaled down, taking place with fewer than 1,000 attendees at the Olympic Stadium, and held under strict social distancing rules.

Many notable figures who were expected to partake in the opening were absent from the event, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who heavily promoted the games in the weeks and months prior.

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