No gold for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics ratings

Photo: Thinkstock/Educester
Photo: Thinkstock/Educester

Before NBC breaks out the bottle of bubbly, the reality of these rating results is what could now be the least-watched Winter Olympics in broadcast history.

NBC is referring to the just concluded 2018 PyeongChang Olympics as "the most robust presentation of the Winter Games in media history." It cites a total audience delivery of approximately 19.8 million viewers, on average, per night (from Thursday, Feb. 8 through Sunday, Feb. 25), according to Nielsen. And NBC specifically states that the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics is the first Winter Games where live primetime coverage was available side-by-side on broadcast, cable and via live stream.

According to the NBC Sports spinmeisters, the network has now also ranked first in 74 Olympic telecast nights historically. It has exceeded the combined viewership of ABC, CBS and Fox on 35 consecutive Olympic nights. It has now won 438 consecutive Olympic half-hours in primetime. And the combined platforms at NBCUNiversal—NBC (176 hours), NBCSN (369 hours), CNBC (46 hours), USA Network (40.5 hours) and Sports app (over 1,800 hours)—offered the most in-depth coverage in Winter Olympics history, totaling over 2,400 hours.

Additionally, coverage of these Winter Games boosted programming staples ‘Today," "NBC Nightly News," "Meet The Press" and the local weekday newcasts on NBC-owned television stations, as well as a second preview of new sitcom "A.P. Bio" following the closing ceremony this past Sunday. On social channels, NBC Olympics delivered 241 million total video views across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (according to ListenFirst).

Then, of course, there was that two-week promotional platform for all NBC programming, all of which constitutes its current midseason line-up.

But before NBC breaks out the bottle of bubbly in celebration, the reality of these rating results, even with all this added coverage on all the NBCU platforms, is what could now be the least-watched Winter Olympics in broadcast history.

Comparably, the 19.8 million viewers was 1.5 million (or 7 percent) below the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 and, at its worst comparison, a staggering 12.1 million (or 38 percent) below Salt Lake City in 2002. 

What follows is a charting of the last six Winter Olympic averages. 

Total Viewers

2018 – PyeongChang (NBC): 19.8 million

2014 – Sochi (NBC): 21.3 million

2010 – Vancouver (NBC): 24.4 million

2006 – Torino (NBC): 20.2 million

2002 – Salt Lake City (NBC): 31.9 million

1998 – Nagano (CBS): 25.3 million

Results in adults 18 to 49—the most coveted demographic for advertisers—were also on the noticeable downside. 

While NBC is also touting its advantage over the competing networks, more than doubling them combined, aside from "The Bachelor" and spin-off "The Bachelor Winter Games" on ABC, and "Big Brother – Celebrity Edition" and "60 Minutes" on CBS, these broadcast mainly ducked the Winter Olympics with repeats. That alone is all the more reason why these rating results for the Winter Olympics are not all that impressive . 

"Truthfully, no one seems to care all that much about the Winter Olympics anymore. It is so much more about the Summer Olympics," noted Rob Russo, president of RNR Media Consulting. "No one really stood out among the American competitors. And, in these current polarizing political times, I don’t necessary think the viewers were interested in any political rhetoric from the athletes. They would have preferred to see them focusing on competing, and winning, for the United States." 

"That is what any Olympics telecast should all be about," he added. "And it wasn’t." 

Nevertheless, NBC has shelled out a reported $7.7 billion to broadcast the Olympics through the year 2032. Following the estimated $940 million in national ad sales for PyeongChang, the potential challenge for NBC will be to match—or surpass—that in 2022 in Beijing, China, and beyond, given the noticeable audience slippage. 

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