The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona had the Dream Team. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing had the Michael Phelps medal sweep. The Tokyo Olympics has a pandemic.
That has been the greatest challenge for NBCUniversal, the company that paid more than $1 billion to run 7,000 hours of games coverage across two broadcast networks, six cable channels and a fledgling streaming platform, Peacock.
The ratings have been a disappointment, averaging 16.8 million viewers a night through Tuesday, a steep drop from the 29 million who tuned in through the same day of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. NBCUniversal has offered to make up for the smaller than expected television audience by offering free ads to some companies that bought commercial time during the games, according to four people with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations.
opening ceremony set a downbeat tone. Instead of the usual pageant of athletes smiling and waving to the crowd, there was a procession of participants walking through a mostly empty Tokyo Olympic Stadium, all wearing masks to protect themselves against the spread of Covid-19 as a new variant raged. The live morning broadcast and prime-time replay drew the lowest ratings for an opening ceremony in 33 years, with just under 17 million viewers. The high came Sunday, July 25, when a little more than 20 million people tuned in.
24 years as NBC’s prime-time Olympics host before leaving the network in 2017. “You can’t create something out of thin air. Everybody knows that this is, we hope, a one-of-a-kind Olympics.”
“It’s like if somebody is running the 100 meters and they have a weight around their ankles,” Mr. Costas continued. “That is not a fair judge of their speed.”
A widespread change in viewing habits, from traditional TV to streaming platforms, has been a big factor in the number of people watching. While NBC’s prime-time audience has shrunk considerably from what it was for the Rio games five years ago, the Olympics broadcasts are still bringing in significantly more viewers than even the most popular entertainment shows. The most recent episode of CBS’s “Big Brother,” a ratings leader, drew an audience of less than four million.
“We had a little bit of bad luck — there was a drumbeat of negativity,” said Jeff Shell, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, during a conference call last week, after NBC’s parent company, Comcast, reported its second-quarter earnings. The less-than-festive atmosphere, he added, “has resulted a little bit in linear ratings being probably less than we expected.”