Feb 21, 2022 - Technology

Beijing Winter Olympics viewership drops to record low

Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

An average of 10.7 million people watched the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games on NBC in primetime over the past few weeks, the network announced on Monday. Including NBC's streaming and digital platforms, that number ticked up to 11.4 million.

Why it matters: It's the smallest primetime audience for any Winter Olympic Games on record.

  • In total, ratings for the Beijing Games were down 36% from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
  • Opening ceremony viewership for the Beijing Games earlier this month fell to an all-time low this year.

Yes, but: The Winter Olympics drew a sizable digital audience, per NBC. The network said the event was streamed for a total of 4.3 billion minutes across digital and social media, making it NBCUniversal’s "most streamed Winter Games ever."

  • In total, 160 million Americans watched NBC’s Beijing Olympics presentation at some point during the past two and a half weeks across NBC, its streaming service Peacock and other digital platforms, per NBC.

Be smart: Live TV viewership for the Olympics has been plummeting for years, but the declines have been exacerbated by the pandemic, geopolitical tensions and timezone headaches.

  • Primetime ratings for the Tokyo Olympics last year were down 42% from the 2016 Summer Games.
  • Neither this year's Winter Games nor the 2020 Summer Games had fans in the stands.
  • The past three Olympics broadcasts have all been in Asia, which means major moments often broke on social media before they aired on NBC in primetime.
Data: Axios research; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The big picture: Viewership for all major TV events, including award shows and national sports championships, is declining, but some events are holding up better than others.

  • Overall, award shows seem to be declining faster than most major live sports championship events, according to Nielsen data.

What to watch: Networks are going to need to reassess which tentpole events are worth the heavy broadcast rights fees and which ones aren't.

  • For most major events — especially the Olympics — live TV viewership numbers alone can't measure total engagement, given the ability to watch clips on different social or streaming platforms.

What to watch: When it comes to tentpole events, advertisers still mostly transact off of live TV ratings, making it harder for networks to monetize social and streaming views, at least for now.

Go deeper: Winter Olympians go under the radar

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