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Beijing Olympics opening ceremony witnesses 43% viewership drop from 2018 Games

The torch-lighting ceremony in Beijing was broadcast live on NBC and the streaming service Peacock.

NBC Sports revealed that 16 million people watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics across multiple platforms, setting a new low for the event since NBCUniversal began broadcasting the Olympics in 1988.

The total audience delivery (TAD) of 16 million viewers, which is an impressive number especially in comparison to everything on linear TV that isn’t the NFL, is down 43 per cent from the 28.3 million viewers who watched the PyeongChang Winter Olympics opening ceremony in February 2018. The drop isn’t surprising, given that Olympic viewership, in general, has been declining but it’s still a huge drop even if that trend is taken into account.

The Beijing Olympics has begun just six months after the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic. The Beijing Olympics will also coincide with the Super Bowl, which will be aired on NBC on February 13.

NBCU will face the challenge of attracting viewers to an event that is taking place amid a U.S. diplomatic boycott of the host country due to human rights violations. This has occurred at a time when live TV viewership is already on the decline (again, except for the NFL). The average primetime TV audience for the Tokyo Olympics fell by more than 40% when compared to the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Though trying to compare the usually more popular Summer Olympics to the Winter Olympics is less fair than comparing Summer to Summer and Winter to Winter. For instance, NBC’s broadcast of the Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony drew 17 million viewers last July, which was the smallest U.S. television audience for the event in 33 years at the time. The Beijing opening ceremony has set a new low in terms of viewership.

The torch-lighting ceremony in Beijing was broadcast live on NBC and the streaming service Peacock and it was replayed in primetime. The Beijing Olympics, like the Tokyo Summer Olympics last summer, are being held in nearly empty arenas to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among athletes, press, and spectators.

According to NBC, the full-day opening ceremony coverage on Friday averaged nearly 14 million TV-only viewers. Peacock had its “best-ever weekday viewership,” with 190 million minutes of digital usage for Friday’s coverage.

From February 2 to 20, NBCUniversal will broadcast 2,800 hours of Beijing Olympics coverage across multiple platforms, including NBC, Peacock, USA Network, CNBC, NBCOlympics.com, and the NBC Sports app. 

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