Photographer: Laurent Kalfala/AFP via Getty Images

NBC Says Olympics Audience Bolstered by Counting Web Viewers

  • 31.5 million people watched Monday on TV, web, network says
  • Web-based viewing has more than tripled from four years ago

After reporting a drop in prime-time TV viewing for the Olympic Games, NBC released data suggesting people are just watching in new ways.

About 31.5 million people tuned in on TV and online to watch the Olympics Monday night, about the same number as those who watched only on TV four years ago, the Comcast Corp.-owned network said Tuesday in a statement.

Digital viewers accounted for about 9 percent of NBC’s nightly audience on Monday, helping to bolster the network’s claim that the Olympics are as popular as ever and that lower Nielsen ratings so far reflect changes in how people watch TV today, with more viewers streaming online.

It had been a tough week for NBC. The network’s Friday broadcast of the opening ceremony attracted 35 percent fewer U.S. viewers than the London games four years ago. While viewership has improved, helped by Monday’s broadcast of popular events like swimming, the NBC broadcast network’s TV ratings are still down 27 percent in prime time from the London Games in 2012, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

“One of the indicators of changing viewer habits, especially with these Olympics, is that our digital consumption has more than tripled from London in each of the first three days of full competition,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, said in a statement.

Online Viewers

Advertisers typically pay more to reach audiences on TV than they do online, making digital viewing less lucrative. When TV networks sell commercials, they often guarantee that advertisers will reach a certain number of viewers. If NBC’s audience falls short of those guarantees, the network may have to give away commercial time to appease advertisers, which the industry calls “make goods.”

“I’m sure advertisers are watching very closely,” said Geetha Ranganathan, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “They paid millions.”

Comcast shares were little changed at $67.20 in early trading Wednesday. They’re up 19 percent this year.

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