Offering yet another reminder to the Japanese people that their government's decision to press ahead with the Tokyo Games was an epic blunder, the viewership for NBC's broadcast of the Summer Games' opening ceremony drew just 16.7MM viewers, the smallest American television audience for a Summer Olympics in the past 33 years, according to preliminary data from NBCUniversal released over the weekend.
Public opinion polls show that the overwhelming majority of Japanese citizens wanted the government to cancel the Olympics.
Instead, the Japanese government opted for a one-year delay due to the COVID pandemic. Even still, with Tokyo under a COVID state of emergency, spectators have been banned from practically all Olympic events, eliminating the economic boost that the Olympics are supposed to create (although research shows that practically every Olympic Games is a major money loser for the host city).
The Opening Ceremony was marred by production problems, including the firing of its director just one day before the ceremony was set to take place. It also attracted protests from angry Tokyo residents who wanted the Games to be cancelled.
Despite having more options for viewing the Games than ever before, NBC found that viewership across all platforms, including NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, was abysmal. In a sign of the shifting times, the streaming audience grew 76% from the 2018 PyeongChang opening ceremony and 72% from the 2016 Rio opener.
Still, the overall audience reflects a "steep drop" from prior Olympic Games. But the pattern didn't begin in Japan. The Tokyo opener TV audience declined 37% from 2016, when 26.5MM people watched the Rio de Janeiro Games opener, and 59% from 2012, when 40.7MM people watched the London ceremony. The Tokyo opening ceremony clocked the smallest audience since the 1988 Seoul Games, which attracted 22.7MM viewers on television.
Viewership was even lower than the 1992 Barcelona Games, when 21.6MM tuned in, according to Reuters.
It was also lower than the 1992 Barcelona Games, when 21.6MM people tuned in, according to Nielsen data (though these numbers all reflect final numbers that aren't available for the Tokyo Games yet).
Hopefully (for NBC's sake), the lack of interest in the Opening Ceremony (which was dramatically scaled back from prior Games) doesn't carry over to the sporting events themselves. Because NBC - which paid $7.7 billion to extend its exclusive broadcast rights for the Games through 2032 - is planning on airing an "unprecedented" 7K hours of Olympics coverage across its multiple television networks and Peacock. These include some of the most anticipated events, such as gymnastics and Men's basketball. It will also stream over 5,500 hours of the Olympics on NBCOlympics.com and its various sports apps.
NBC claims it sold billions of dollars in advertising for the Games, meaning the drop in viewership for the opening ceremony won't necessarily impact the company's profits.
Unfortunately, that isn't much consolation to the Japanese people, who are terrified that the Games will mark the start of another "super-spreader event."