Despite the percent double-digit loss in viewing, the Opening Ceremonies garnered a larger audience than such blockbuster programming as the NBA Finals, The Oscars, Grammy Awards and Golden Globes all airing earlier this year. In recent months only Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, with an average audience of 17.1 million viewers, outpaced the audience delivery of the Opening Ceremonies. Furthermore, excluding the Super Bowl lead-out program The Equalizer (20.4 million) it was the most watched standalone entertainment program since July 2020.
Average Audience Opening Ceremonies
Summer Olympics (Primetime)
2020 Tokyo 16.7 million
2016 Rio 26.5 million
2012 London 40.7 million
2008 Beijing 34.9 million
2004 Athens 25.4 million
2000 Sydney 27.3 million
1996 Atlanta 39.8 million
1992 Barcelona 21.6 million
1988 Seoul 22.7 million
Source: Nielsen (all on NBC)
NBC reported the Opening Ceremonies marks the 119th consecutive evening that the Summer Olympics was the top-rated program on television. This is an indication of the ratings dominance NBC can expect throughout the Tokyo games. (The Closing Ceremonies will air on August 8.)
Not surprisingly, the streaming audience for the Opening Ceremonies on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC SportsApp both reported strong increases with viewing up 76% from the 2018 PyeongChang Opening Ceremony and 72% from 2016 Rio Opening Ceremony. Throughout the Olympics, NBC will be heavily promoting their digital platforms, especially Peacock.
As with previous Olympics held in Asia and Europe, NBC’s prime time coverage of the Opening Ceremonies was tape-delayed. Adweek reports The Today Show was preempted for the first time in their 69-year history in its 7 a.m. time period enabling NBC to broadcast the Opening Ceremonies live. The Summer Olympics started at 8 p.m. in Tokyo, with a 13-hour time difference of 7 a.m. (ET). NBC also replayed the Opening Ceremonies in the overnight hours. In second quarter 2021, The Today Show averaged 3.19 million viewers, The Today Show along with other NBC shows can expect a notable increase in audience throughout the Tokyo Games.
This is a far cry from the last time the Summer Olympics were held in Asia. During the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, NBC had only televised packaged highlights of the Opening Ceremonies in primetime on a tape-delay basis. Throughout the day the network was busy shutting down unauthorized video streaming websites coming from the streaming news feeds of global broadcasters, clips from YouTube and other rogue websites. By joining other broadcasters worldwide in televising the event live on The Today Show along with the emergence of their own multiplatform capabilities, NBC circumvented the issue.
Because of the pandemic which has killed over 4.1 million people worldwide, there were only 1,000 attendees at the Opening Ceremonies despite a seating capacity of 80,000. In the NBC telecast, Savannah Guthrie, the co-anchor of The Today Show noted, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Among the pageantry typically associated with the Opening Ceremonies including the Parade of Nations and the lighting of the Olympic flame (by tennis player Naomi Osaka), there was also a tribute to First Responders.