The Closing Ceremony on Sunday, August 8th marked the end of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. A normally packed stadium was nearly empty due to covid guidelines and fewer athletes attended the event. Health and safety measures advised athletes and coaches to depart from the Olympic Village within 48 hours of the conclusion of their event.
The number of athletes was not the only figure to have dropped from 2016. Primetime coverage of the 2020 Olympics did not live up to NBC’s hopes. It was expected that the Games would be heavily watched after a year of anticipation due to the pandemic; however, the final primetime cable numbers did not reflect that assumption.
In 2016, an average of 29 million people turned on their televisions to follow their favorite athletes in Rio. This year, nearly half that number turned up. There was an average of 16.8 million viewers per night through the same day as the previous Olympic Games.
Total Audience for Primetime Programming:
- 23 July (Fri): 8.2 million for the Opening Ceremony
- 24 July (Sat): 15.3 million
- 25 July (Sun): 19.2 million
- 26 July (Mon): 16.8 million
- 27 July (Tue): 16.2 million
- 28 July (Wed): 15.0 million
- 29 July (Thu): 19.5 million
- 30 July (Fri): 15.2 million
- 31 July (Sat): not reported
- 01 Aug. (Sun): not reported
- 02 Aug. (Mon): 15.8 million
- 03 Aug: (Tue): 17.4 million
- 04 Aug: (Wed): 14.6 million
- 05 Aug: (Thu): 13.3 million
- 06 Aug: (Fri): 12.5 million
There are multiple factors that could have caused a dip in ratings. SwimSwam previously reported that the rise of streaming services could play a part in the low cable ratings at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. NBC’s contract meant that they could stream the Olympics from the ten different channels, one of which was their new streaming service, Peacock.
Many people have ditched cable networks in favor of streaming services. The Peacock app saw a 96% increase in downloads in the month of July, though people quickly became frustrated when they discovered not all events would be streamed from one channel or platform. It became difficult to decipher which events would be played live and what channel they would need to tune into to watch.
Timezones also played a large role in American viewership. Prelims sessions began at 7:00 pm in Tokyo, which was 3:00 am PST and finals did not begin until 9:30 pm EST. This, paired with news alerts and social media made audiences less likely to turn on their televisions. Americans would wake up to alerts on their phones about medal-winning performances and would find videos of the performance on social media. Because NBC often tape-delayed their coverage, there was less incentive for people to tune in for events they already knew the results for.
The New York Times reported that NBC Sports’ Olympic channel on the TikTok app gained a 348% increase in followers throughout the Games. It became easier to search for a video on YouTube or Twitter than find out when each event would be featured on the air.
Viewers also turned to social media to voice their displeasure about the number of ads that were being run during events. There were split-screen ads that were larger than the televised event and other ads that ran through entire races, such as the first semi-final of the women’s 100 fly which featured both Americans, Torri Huske and Claire Curzan.
This was also due in part to NBC’s contract as the sole streamer of the Olympics. The network began giving out more ad space to make up for the lack of viewers. When the Games had started, NBC already had its ads lined up with its big advertisers such as Toyota, Subway, and Geico. When ratings started coming in, NBC realized they were not getting the numbers they had projected and therefore began selling ad slots to more companies. The idea was that the money they received from the companies being advertised would make up for the revenue loss from low viewership.
Australia’s Seven Sees Continued Success
Seven Network reported another week of record audiences watching the Olympic coverage. According to Media Week, the largest audience was on Day 9 when the Australians picked up the most gold medals on a single day in the country’s history.
The Australians saw a rather large jump in the number of medals earned since the 2016 Olympics. They brought home 29 medals during the 2016 Rio Olympics and won 46 in Tokyo. This count is closer to the numbers they saw between 2000-2008, racking up a total of 58 medals at the 2000 Olympics hosted in Sydney.
Japan Hits Medal Record
Japan’s Olympic success also appeared to increase the number of television viewers. The host country brought home a total of 58 medals across all sports. This is 17 more medals than their previous record of 41 medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. According to the Nikkei Asia, the IOC reported that nine in ten Japanese viewers tuned in to watch at least one event at the Olympics.