2020 Tokyo Olympics: Opening Ceremony TV Ratings Nosedive in US, Soar in Japan’s Capital

by Josh Lanier

Viewership for the Olympics Opening Ceremony was down in the United States this year. Way down. In fact, the viewership hit a 33-year low for the Tokyo Games in America, but why?

The Hollywood Reporter said only 16.7 million Americans watched the opening ceremony — this number includes live and streaming viewers. That’s down from 40 million for London Games in 2012, 28.3 million for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and 26.5 million who tuned in to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro Opening Ceremony.

For perspective, more people watched Oprah Winfrey interview Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in March — which drew in 17 million viewers — than they did the opening ceremony, Fox News pointed out.

In Japan, however, Olympic viewership is near an all-time high. Especially in the host city of Tokyo, where 61 percent of the population checked out the opening ceremony.

There’s not going to be one reason for the drop but a collection of them. But the driving force is most likely COVID-19. The pandemic has dominated these Games. Organizers postponed the Tokyo Olympics from 2020 in hopes the virus would be more contained. But a new strain upended the decline in infection rates vaccines and protection protocols had made.

The Olympic committee banned spectators from the games, removing a lot of the excitement and drama of the performances. And most reviews of the opening ceremony used worlds like “downbeat” and somber.

The constant discussion and debate over the virus have exhausted most people to the point where they’re tuning out. Viewership for every major sporting event and awards ceremony was at record lows this year. And most analysts believe the coronavirus is behind much of that drop-off.

Viewers Blast Olympics As Hard To Follow

Compounding matters is that people who are turning on the Olympics say the Games are difficult to follow as NBC has moved many of the most popular events to its streaming service Peacock. Other events are being broadcast on television. And some you can catch live on YouTube.

By complicating the point of entry for the Games, NBC has given some viewers a reason to just wait and watch the highlights online.

One viewer wrote he just wanted to turn on his television and watch the event. But having to download an app requires the viewer to either watch the games on their phones or tablets if they don’t have a smart TV or device like FireTV or Roku.

“I just want basketball,” Dan Faulkner tweeted, exacerbated by how complicated it was to watch.

“What’s the problem? All you need is cable, Peacock, NBC Sports app, NBC Sports Plus app, the keys to nuclear fusion, and a full understanding of dark matter to watch it,” one viewer joked on Twitter.