SANTA MONICA, CA – JULY 26: The NBC Olympic Social Opening Ceremony at Jonathan Beach Club on July 26, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for NBC Olympic Social Opening Ceremony )

Are the ratings for the 2016 Rio Olympics down? We suppose it depends on who you ask. And good luck to you if you do decide to ask, because you’re about to find yourself in an argument.

Initial reports suggested that the sky was falling for NBC as the first couple days of primetime coverage were down from the London Olympics. The opening ceremonies alone took a 34 percent drop-off from the previous version. While ratings were second only to the London games overall, it still signaled a sharp decline that must have put advertisers on edge.

Or did it? At least those advertisers smart enough to get in on NBC’s streaming coverage seemed to be able to take solace in the fact that digital viewing was up in a big way this time around. The 11.3 million unique users watching streaming coverage over that period was up seven percent from 2012.

Still, it’s hard to change patterns, especially when it comes to the way we decide how to spend million of dollars. So as it became clear that broadcast ratings weren’t going to catch up to the previous games, it seemed as though advertisers were going to get angrier and angrier with the way things were trending.

As of Wednesday, ratings were officially down 20 percent overall. The average audience sats at 28.6 million after five days and viewership among 18-34 audiences was down 32 percent.

NBC Sports Group would point you towards those digital viewing numbers as well as extra coverage on channels such as Bravo and NBCSN. Combined, viewership for the 2016 Olympics averages more like 36.1 million. That’s still less than the 38.8 million viewers from London but the cable and streaming primetime options that exist now weren’t around back then either.

They’d also tell you that their Olympic ratings continue to rise and keeps peaking thanks to high-profile events involving U.S. athletes.

In other words, you can make a pretty solid argument that the Rio Olympics ratings are underperforming and you can also make a solid argument that the Rio Olympics ratings are doing just fine. That was certainly the case on Twitter earlier this week when industry PR vet Vince Wladika and Sports Business Journal reporter John Ourand got into it (throwing Awful Announcing into the mix as well).

Ourand deleted his tweets but the gist boiled down the factual truth that the broadcast ratings are down vs. the anecdotal truth that more people, especially younger people, are watching broadcasts on their phones and not on TV.

Wladika didn’t mention that his PR firm does work for Comcast, which owns NBC so take his opinions accordingly, but there’s still validity to the push-pull of this discussion.

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In the end, it’s likely that everyone is going to come away from he Olympics with their own ratings beliefs intact. The broadcast numbers will be lower than the previous ones, so it will be deemed a failure. Or, the combined numbers between network, cable, and streaming will be slightly off London’s numbers but still in the same range, and it will be deemed a worthy value for advertisers. Depending on where your mindset is coming from, that’ll likely determine how you see this play out.

And maybe you’re not entirely right or wrong either way.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to

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