NBC Audience for Olympics Opening Drops 35% From London 2012

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Michael Phelps leads the American delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Aug. 5, 2016.

Photographer: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images
  • TV network aired Rio de Janeiro ceremonies on delay in U.S.
  • NBC counting on big ratings to justify advertisers’ spending

NBC’s broadcast of the Olympics opening ceremony delivered a U.S. audience that was 35 percent smaller than the one viewing the first evening of the London games four years ago.

The broadcast was viewed by about 26.5 million people, NBC Sports spokesman Dan Masonson said Saturday. The preliminary audience rating of 17.2 dropped from London’s initial rating of 23.0, NBC said. Each rating point equals 1 percent of the 116.4 million U.S. TV households tracked by Nielsen. Friday’s opening ceremony was streamed online simultaneously for the first time, which may have hurt TV ratings. 

The festivities from Rio de Janeiro aired at 7:30 p.m. in most U.S. time zones, helping NBC reach as many U.S. viewers as possible in prime time. The network’s telecast of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremonies in London attracted 40.7 million viewers.

NBC needs a big audience to please advertisers who spent $1.2 billion to get their commercials in front of a large live audience for 17 days and ensure the network’s long-term investment in Olympics programming stays profitable.

For more coverage of the Rio Olympics, click here.

Five years ago, the network’s parent, Comcast Corp., paid $4.4 billion for Olympics broadcast rights and then agreed in 2014 to pay an additional $7.75 billion to air the games through 2032. NBC pays about $1 billion every two years for its Olympics TV rights, and made about $120 million in profit during the London games. 

The network is expecting record viewership this year because, unlike with some previous games, Rio de Janeiro is just one hour ahead of U.S. Eastern Daylight Time, allowing NBC to carry more live Olympic events in prime time. Four years ago in London, many events were finished by the time they aired on prime-time U.S. television.

The games also represent a chance for NBC to catch up with broadcast rival CBS Corp. in the ratings.  Among the big four U.S. broadcast networks, NBC is in second place in total prime-time audience for the TV season that began in September, averaging 7.61 million viewers a night. CBS is first with 9.68 million, according to Nielsen data. NBC is also second in the 18- to 49-year-old age group that advertisers target, with 2.51 million viewers a night through July 31.

Comcast’s NBCUniversal, which has the exclusive long-term rights to broadcast the games to U.S. viewers, plans to air more than 6,700 hours of Olympics events live on TV or streamed on the web over 17 days in August.

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