Is Anyone Watching? Olympics TV Viewers Drop To 33-Year Low
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 23: A general view of the Olympic cauldron lit during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Did you watch the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympians? No? Well, you weren’t alone.

Just 16.7 million Americans tuned in to NBC’s broadcast of the ceremony, the smallest U.S. television audience to watch the event in the past 33 years, according to preliminary data from Comcast-owned NBCUniversal.

“Friday’s audience reflects a steep drop, despite difficult comparisons with previous opening ceremonies when viewers had fewer streaming options,” Reuters reported. “The Tokyo opener TV audience declined 37% from 2016, when 26.5 million people watched the Rio de Janeiro Games opener, and 59% from 2012, when 40.7 million people watched the London ceremony.”

“It was the lowest audience for the opening ceremony since the 1988 Seoul Games, which attracted 22.7 million TV viewers. It was also lower than the 1992 Barcelona Games, when 21.6 million people tuned in, according to Nielsen data,” Reuters wrote.

And even though the stadium where the opening ceremony took place was built to hold tens of thousands of people, just 950 attended amid the COVID-19 scarred games.

But NBC Sports said its online audience grew: The streaming audience on and the NBC Sports app rose 72% over the opener of the 2016 games and 76% from the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

“With approximately 17 million viewers, the opening ceremony delivered a Multiplatform dominant audience in a vastly different media landscape from 5 years ago,” NBC said. “It was the most unique opening ceremony ever— designed to meet this moment of global unity.”

And the network noted that the ceremony was “the second-most watched standalone primetime entertainment telecast since the pandemic began in March, excluding post- Superbowl coverage,” The Hill reported.

Let’s hope American viewers are tuning in now, as the U.S. swimmers on Sunday “raced to their best-ever start at an Olympics, winning medals in every event of the first finals session, including the first U.S. gold medal of the games in any sport,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Team USA’s six medals—one gold, two silver and three bronze—are the most it’s ever won on the first day of Olympic swimming finals. It’s even more impressive considering that prior to 1984, countries could send three swimmers per event instead of two, allowing possible podium sweeps.

The team made the podium in events in which it wasn’t supposed to medal, said U.S. men’s team assistant coach Jack Bauerle. “It’s obviously a really proud moment,” he said. “I can’t really feel anything, I’m so happy.”

Things started with a bang in the men’s 400-meter individual medley as Chase Kalisz, a former world champion in the event, won gold in 4:09.42. His former college teammate and training partner at the University of Georgia Jay Litherland surged in the final 75 meters of the freestyle leg to touch second in 4:10.28.

NBC plans to air what it says is an “unprecedented” 7,000 hours of Olympics coverage across its multiple television networks and Peacock, its new streaming service.

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