NBC is spinning the 2018 Winter Olympics as the most dominant ever in primetime, but when you look inside the numbers, they show these Olympics as the least-watched Games in U.S. television history. Despite plenty of live figure skating and alpine skiing, NBC’s primetime coverage averaged a 10.1 rating and 17.8 million viewers.
Sports Media Watch notes that’s off 17% in ratings and 16% in viewership as compared to the Sochi Olympics (12.2 rating/21.3 million), which were completely tape-delayed in primetime.
NBC boasts of the victories over ABC, CBS, and Fox, and it also had simultaneous Olympic programming on NBCSN as well as live online streaming of the events. That led to an overall audience of 19.8 million in primetime, marking the first time that NBC had simultaneous cable and online programming in primetime.
The previous low for the Winter Olympics was the 2006 Turin Games, which averaged 20.2 million viewers and a 12.2 rating. This is the first year since 2006 in which none of the primetime nights hit the 30 million viewers mark, something which both the Vancouver and Sochi Games achieved.
Salt Lake in 2002, which had extensive live coverage but was delayed out west, remains the highest-rated Olympics in the last 20 years with an average of almost 32 million viewers.
However, in this day and age of fragmented viewership, NBC still managed to deliver a massive audience for its advertisers, and NBCSN appears to have had its best month ever, averaging 768,000 total viewers through February 25.
Sports Media Watch says NBC’s primetime viewership beat its broadcast brethren by a whopping 82%. ABC, CBS, and Fox averaged a combined 9.8 million viewers vs the Olympics, a margin the Peacock can hang its hat on. The gap has actually grown since Turin, when NBC actually lost audience compared to the other networks (20.2 million vs. 32.8 million).
But since 2006, NBC has beaten ABC, CBS, and Fox by 9% in 2010 for the Vancouver Games and by 43% for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Overall, the Olympics are seeing a bigger advantage against network competition, but a lower overall viewership, However, all of television is seeing a lower audience, so NBC can at least celebrate primetime wins and viewership bumps for its other windows, such as mornings, late afternoons, and late night.