2020 Tokyo Olympics: Ratings Are ‘Underwhelming’ as Games Come to a Close

by Leanne Stahulak

As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics draw to a close today, the final ratings are in. And it’s not looking too hot for NBC, which has broadcast the Games since 1988.

According to Daily Mail, NBC admitted that they’ve experienced “underwhelming ratings” during these Games. Viewership also dropped 49% compared to the 2016 Rio Olympics and 53% compared to the 2012 London Olympics during primetime on July 26.

And the opening ceremonies drew only 16.7 million viewers, which is the lowest viewership since NBC started broadcasting the event 33 years ago. For comparison, more people watched the Game of Thrones finale in 2019 than the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremonies this year.

But why are so few people tuning into the biggest sporting event in the world? Daily Mail has a few ideas.

For one thing, they said that officials claim the COVID-19 pandemic created less excitement around the Games. With the year delay and no spectators, audiences found it difficult to feel the hype around the Olympics. It’s not the same to watch an exciting race or tense match when there are no screaming fans to spur on the moment.

But other sources, like Fox News, also said that recent political protests at the Games have caused viewers to change the channel. Fox talked to Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in New Jersey, about the viewership decline.

“The Olympic spirit is a bit dampened this year,” Murray said. “The delay from last year and lack of spectators have taken the edge off the typical anticipation and excitement for this event. But the emergence of Black Lives Matter in the sports world has also led to a backlash among some Americans.”

Several athletes exhibited some form of protest during the Toky Olympics, from taking a knee or turning away from the flag during the national anthem to drawing an X on the back of a hand.

NBC’s Tokyo Olympics Ratings Drop Even as Streaming Increases

There’s another key reason why the Tokyo Olympics ratings have dropped so much this year. Way fewer people have cable television.

In March, Pew Research Center revealed that the number of Americans tuning into cable or satellite TV has dropped from 76% in 2015 to 56% in 2021. Though it’s still over half the population, it’s nowhere near the number of people subscribed to cable TV throughout the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. Of course, back then, there were also no streaming platforms.

Daily Mail reports that NBC’s streaming services, including Peacock, NBCOlympics.com, and the NBC Sports app, saw a significant bump in viewership this year. Apparently, audience viewership grew 76% from the 2018 PyeongChang opening ceremony and 72 percent from the 2016 Rio opening event. The network used the Olympics as a catalyst to push people to sign up for the premium version of Peacock.

While Peacock should’ve been the easy solution for viewers without cable, it did present difficulties. The platform only aired three or four Olympic sports live, like gymnastics and swimming. Those live times also took place at local time in Japan, or 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. EST.

And those who paid the premium price for Peacock also experienced issues. The service showed glitches and blank screens when it was supposed to skip commercials. Viewers also couldn’t use “on-demand” to watch whatever sports they wanted. They’d have to wait multiple days to watch replays of big events instead.

We’ll see if NBC gets themselves sorted out before the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. For now, the network is looking to compensate advertisers for lower viewership and ratings. Reportedly, they’re giving advertisers additional commercials to make up for the lack of viewers.