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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Primetime ratings for the Tokyo Olympic Games were down 42% from the 2016 Games, according to data from NBCUniversal.

Why it matters: It's an undeniable proof point that the decline of traditional television is happening faster than initially expected. It also points to the ways media diets and interests have become more polarized and divided in the digital era.

Details: In total, the Games averaged roughly 15.5 million primetime viewers across the two weeks that NBC aired the events, according to an analysis of total audience delivery measured by Nielsen and Adobe Analytics.

  • That's down from roughly 26.7 primetime viewers who tuned into the Summer Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
  • While that number is high compared to all other prime-time programming in the U.S., there's no question that it represents a significant challenge for NBCU, which has shelled out billions of dollars for rights for the Games through 2032.
  • In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua said that most advertisers are being compensated for viewership declines.

Between the lines: NBCU says the declines were partially offset by digital gains, and notes that it still expects the Olympics to be profitable this year.

  • But it's unclear how much those digital gains have led to paid subscriber increases to its streaming service, Peacock.
  • Last month, NBCU said that Peacock had over 54 million sign-ups and over 20 million monthly active accounts, but it has yet to distinguish how many of those customers pay for the service, as opposed to using the free tier.
  • Instead, NBC said that viewership of streamed content hit a record of more than 5.5 billion minutes across NBC Sports' digital and social media platforms.
  • That figure includes more than 4.3 billion minutes content streamed across NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock, which NBCU says is up 22% from 2016 and 95% from 2018.

The big picture: While several temporary factors likely impacted the low numbers, like the time zone difference, a lack of compelling characters, and the pandemic, there's no question that intensifying long-term trends also played a role.

  • Streaming adoption in the U.S. is nearing ubiquity. More than 80% of U.S. TV households have at least one internet-connected TV device, according to Leichtman Research.
  • Americans are sharply divided over whether Olympic athletes should take a stand on social justice issues, per a recent Axios/Momentive poll.
  • Younger audiences are increasingly following along with the Games via new social media platforms like TikTok.
  • Olympics ratings in general have been declining for years. Amid the pandemic, major sports leagues and award shows have also seen viewership numbers crater.

What to watch: For NBCU, the next Olympic Games are just around the corner. The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics begins in less than six months.

Go deeper

Activists disrupt Beijing Winter Games flame lighting ceremony

Three protesters display a Tibetan flag and a "No genocide games" sign at the flame-lighting ceremony in Greece on Monday, protesting the Beijing Winter Olympics. Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

Three activists disrupted the flame-lighting ceremony for the Beijing Winter Olympics on Monday, protesting human rights violations in China.

Why it matters: There have been widespread calls to boycott the Games, including a coalition of 180 human rights groups that cites China's treatment of the Uyghur Muslims and Tibetans. However, a boycott is highly unlikely, per Axios' Jeff Tracy.

California governor declares drought emergency for entire state

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speakinng to reporters in Los Angeles in September. Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) extended a drought emergency declaration to cover the entire state on Tuesday.

Why it matters: "California is experiencing its worst drought since the late 1800s, as measured by both lack of precipitation and high temperatures," per a statement from the governor's office. This past August was the driest and hottest one on record, "and the water year that ended last month was the second driest on record," the statement added.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Reports: Brazil leader to be accused of crimes against humanity over COVID

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Brazilian Senate panel will recommend President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with "crimes against humanity," alleging his COVID-19 pandemic response led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, per the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The latest: The lawmakers initially said Bolsonaro should be charged with mass homicide and genocide, but lawmakers updated the report to replace these recommendations with the new charge, its lead author, Sen. Renan Calheiros, told the NYT.