The Beijing Winter Games drew the lowest ratings in the history of the Olympics since NBCUniversal began broadcasting the event decades ago.
The Winter Olympics, which aired across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms of Comcast’s NBCU, attracted an average of 11.4 million primetime viewers over its two-and-a-half week run, the company said Tuesday. That marked a 42% drop from the disastrously low-rated Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018, which had registered the lowest viewership up until that point.
“This was probably the most difficult Olympics of all time,” NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua told The Wall Street Journal. He said to make up for the meager audience, advertisers were given additional commercial time. “They were made whole throughout the entire Olympics,” Bevacqua said of advertisers.
The Olympics hit its best primetime ratings on Feb. 13 with 21.2 million average viewers, following NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LVI, which turned in a massive 112 million viewers.
The pandemic fueled the lackluster ratings, Bevacqua said, pointing to difficulties such as few spectators, athletes wearing masks, no family and friends in the stands and “very harsh protocols in China” related to COVID-19.
As a result, NBC kept its announcing team in its US facilities rather than in Beijing, which added to the issues, the exec said. “We had 1,600 people in Stamford[, Conn.] and 600 people in Beijing. Normally that would be flipped for us,” he added.
The Beijing Games continued the trend of sinking Olympic ratings. The Tokyo Summer Games averaged 15.5 million prime-time viewers, NBC’s lowest-rating Summer Olympics since it began broadcasting them in 1988.
Beijing’s opening day nabbed nearly 16 million viewers, which was 43% lower than in 2018 for the Pyeongchang Games.
Despite the lackluster numbers, NBC said the Olympics were the most-watched primetime series since last summer’s Tokyo Games, excluding the NFL.
NBC also called out Peacock, its streaming service, which was a bright spot for the company. Unlike during the Summer Games, Peacock aired the entire Olympics — live events and replays — for its paying subscribers, who shelled out $9.99.
The company said 4.3 billion minutes of the Olympics were streamed across its platforms, led by Peacock, which also recorded its best 18-day span of usage since it launched in 2020.
“For Peacock, it was a home run,” Bevacqua said. “We drastically improved our strategy in the time between Tokyo and Beijing.”
The network remains bullish on the Games, even as viewership has slipped. NBC is paying about $1.3 billion per Olympics through 2032 to broadcast the Games in the US.
The company said it made roughly $1.8 billion in revenue for the Tokyo Games, but it stayed mum on whether it turned a profit. It is widely expected that the Beijing Games also won’t turn a profit.