Around 17 million Americans tuned into the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics on Friday, according to NBC, a steep dropoff from previous Olympic Games openers, as live TV programs face an across-the-board dip in viewership this year.

This picture shows the Olympic cauldron and flame during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 … [+] Olympic Games.
AFP via Getty Images

NBC’s 17 million figure includes both television and online streaming audiences, and it factors in two different airings of the spectator-free spectacle: a live broadcast early Friday morning and a primetime rebroadcast more than 12 hours later.

That’s a large decrease from previous Olympic Games: The opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang drew 28.3 million viewers, the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro netted 26.5 million viewers for its opener, London 2012 had a record opening ceremony audience of 40.7 million Americans, and the 2008 Games in Beijing averaged 34.9 million opening ceremony viewers.

Even though overall ratings dropped this year, NBC says average viewership on its website and app surged 76% from PyeongChang and 72% from Rio, a reflection of TV viewers’ rapid migration from antennas and cable boxes to computers and cell phones.

The coronavirus pandemic has left an indelible mark on this year’s Olympics. Organizers delayed the Games by a year, and its rescheduled version is ringed by public health restrictions, almost totally devoid of spectators and mired in controversy as some athletes test positive for Covid-19 and some Japanese residents argue the event should have been cancelled outright. These disruptions may have suppressed enthusiasm, causing opening ceremony ratings to soften. Plus, TV ratings for a wide range of events have taken a hit recently, partly because streaming services offer more competition for viewers’ attention. Live sports aren’t immune to this trend: This year’s NBA Finals drew more viewers than 2020’s truncated season, but far fewer than in most pre-pandemic years; viewership for last week’s MLB All-Star Game increased just 1% from a record low 2019; and the 2021 Super Bowl — which is typically the most watched television program of the year — posted its smallest audience in over a decade.

The opening ceremony still attracted a large audience by 2021 standards. NBC says the event was the second most-watched standalone primetime entertainment program since the start of the coronavirus pandemic last March, behind Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, not including programming that aired immediately after the Super Bowl.

This may be the lowest-rated Olympics ever. NBC shouldn’t sweat it (CNN)

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