2020 Olympic ratings plummeted to historic lows

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NBC Universal saw record-low ratings throughout the 2020 Olympic Games, forcing them to give advertisers extra airtime to make up for the loss. 

Since the Olympics’ opening ceremony on July 23, a fraction of the audience that tuned in for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games returned for the Tokyo contests and viewership remained low throughout the 17 days of competition. 

Last Sunday, NBC’s primetime audience was down 51 percent from the 26.7 million viewers who watched the Rio Games in 2016 and during the first week of contests, typically the most-watched, ratings were down by nearly 60 percent most nights, according to Nielsen.

NBC has been hustling to schedule “make goods,” or extra commercial time for jilted advertisers, following the low ratings. 

Pete Bevacqua, NBC Sports chairman, acknowledged the 2020 Games were “different” and he expected about 99 percent of the ad obligations to be wrapped up by Sunday night. 

“They are different, and we have never shied away from that,” said Bevacqua of the Tokyo Games.

“We said this was a different Olympics, necessarily so, but it’s still wonderful, it’s still great and it’s still the best 17 days in sports.”

Despite the rosy sentiments, Andy Billings, director of the sports communications program at the University of Alabama, said it’s difficult to sugarcoat the numbers. 

“It’s probably NBC’s worst-case scenario, but it’s probably a worst-case scenario that they would have been able to predict months ago,” Billings said. 

“When you look at the numbers, it’s hard to be pleased with them.” 

The reasons for the low ratings are varied.  

About 36 percent of pandemic-weary Americans reported less interest in the Olympics than usual, according to a Monmouth University poll taken in late July, and only 3 percent had more interest than they did in the past. 

Forty-one percent of respondents said they had no interest in watching the Games at all, compared to just 16 percent who said they had a lot, and 36 percent of Americans thought it was a bad idea to hold the Games at all amid the pandemic. 

Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth’s polling institute, said part of the indifference, particularly from Republicans, was disgust over athletes making political statements. 

While political demonstrations were largely absent from Tokyo, statements made during Olympic qualifying events, such as hammer thrower Gwen Berry’s decision to turn her back on the flag as the National Anthem played, appeared to sour a good chunk of would-be watchers. 

“The Olympic spirit is a bit dampened this year,” Murray explained. 

“The delay from last year and lack of spectators have taken the edge off the typical anticipation and excitement for this event. But the emergence of Black Lives Matter in the sports world has also led to a backlash among some Americans.”

During the first week of the Games, NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Shell chalked it up to “bad luck.” 

“There was a drumbeat of negativity,” he said. 

“And that has resulted in linear ratings being probably less than we expected.”

With Post wires

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