2020 Tokyo Olympics: Simone Biles’ Return Marks 9-Night Ratings High

by Suzanne Halliburton

Ratings confirmed what we all thought. Simone Biles’ return to the Tokyo Olympics was a huge ratings draw.

According to TV Line, NBC’s prime-time coverage of the Tokyo Olympics averaged 14.6 million total viewers. That’s the biggest preliminary audience for the Tokyo Olympics since July 25, a stretch of nine days.

For context, on July 25, the Tokyo Olympics were in their second full day of competition. Qualifying for the women’s gymnastics all-around was ongoing. Simone Biles had yet to pull out of the team competition, the all-around or three of the four individual event finals. Swimming was ongoing. So was men’s skateboarding, the newest event of the Tokyo Olympics.

Still, the Tokyo Olympics is struggling to pull in the massive audiences generated by previous Games. The Associated Press described the numbers as “sobering.” Sunday’s NBC audience was 13 million. That was fewer than half of the viewers from the same night at the 2016 Games in Rio. AP reported that Saturday night’s telecast was down 57 percent. Other nights have seen similar drops.

“We’ve had some bad luck,” NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Shell said last week, according to the AP. “There was a drumbeat of negativity … and that has resulted in linear ratings being probably less than we expected.”

Tokyo Olympics Viewership Has Dropped, But No One is Watching Other Networks

But, the numbers also show that it’s more of a network TV problem, as opposed to issues with the Tokyo Olympics. Cord cutters breaking away from cable television is taking its toll. For example, Fox averaged fewer than 1 million viewers in prime-time each night last week. It was the first time one of the four broadcast networks ever slipped below 1 million. CBS had 2.22 million, ABC had 2.17 million.

NBC is using a number of its cable channels to show the Tokyo Olympics. The network also is showing events, live and tape-delayed, on USA Network, NBC Sports Network and the Olympic Channel. It also is using Peacock, its streaming service, to show live events and new in-studio content.

The gymnastics competition happens early in the morning in the United States. The balance beam started at 5 a.m., Eastern time. By the time most people woke up, they learned that Biles won a bronze medal. Biles, who probably was the biggest draw of the Tokyo Olympics, was forced to withdraw from the team competition. She said she was suffering from the “twisties,” a condition in which gymnasts suddenly can’t tell where they are in mid-air as they perform a trick.

Biles, unbeknownst to most anyone else, trained at an off-site Japanese gym as she tried to regain her form. The Wall Street Journal reported this news Wednesday. Biles tweeted a link to the story and thanked the gym for allowing her to use it.