2020 Tokyo Olympics See Ratings Down Nearly 50% Compared to Rio Games

by Jonathan Howard

After the first few weeks of the Tokyo Olympics, it is clear that there is an issue with viewership. Whether the one-year delay, pandemic, politically vocal athletes, time zone difference, or a combination of factors, the writing is on the wall for NBC. Advertisers have invested a reported $1.2 billion into the games.

The primetime coverage has lost almost half of the audience from the 2016 Rio Games. When compared to the 2012 London Games, viewership is down almost 60%. The numbers are clear and the number of viewers through the first eight days. On Friday night, views dropped from 24 million in 2016 to just 11.7 million when compared to the equivalent Friday.

In another view trend, NBC has lost quite a bit of its youth viewership. A drop of 67% for people aged 12-17. In the 18-34 age range, the drop isn’t as bad, but at 63% it is still unsettling for the network. The same viewership decline can be found in the opening ceremony. This year, the ceremony wasn’t available to all athletes and there were no spectators allowed. Since COVID-19 is still raging across the world, Olympic organizers have taken spectators out of the equation.

Less Viewers Means Less Olympics Revenue

In the world of television and views, fewer views mean less revenue. The investors that have put up over one billion dollars for the NBC coverage of the Olympics are expecting to make a return on their investment. There are ways for the network to make good on their investments and make some money for their advertisers. If the coverage picks up in the latter days of the Olympics, especially as track and field get underway.

There could be an uptick, but even if there isn’t, NBCUniversal CEO, Jeff Shell, has insisted the Games would be profitable. Even if advertisers have “anxiety” over the Games, as reported, Shell says, “This has resulted in linear ratings being probably less than we expected…We’re going to be profitable on the Olympics.”

One of the ways that NBCUniversal can make good for their investors is by “making goods,” as Variety editor Brian Steinberg wrote, “[make goods are] ad inventory that is given to sponsors when a program fails to meet its original viewership guarantees.” There are many valid reasons why viewership has gone down. Being delayed an entire year has made many disinterested. The pandemic has made many disinterested and sports as a whole seem to be having a decline.

The lack of spectators has made the atmosphere of the Olympic Games a bit dull. While the athlete celebrations have been great, and there have been some wonderful performances, fans just have not engaged with the Games as they have in the past. Time zone differences have put finals and certain big events in the wee hours of the night or early morning. That means the live performances aren’t watched, and by the time they air on television again at primetime hours, fans have likely found out the results via social media.