If you’ve been getting the sense that the Beijing Winter Olympics aren’t quite having the cultural impact as previous games, you’re probably right. There seems to be much less interest in this year’s game so far, at least based on the audience numbers for the opening ceremonies.
NBC Sports reported Saturday that 16 million viewers watched the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics opening ceremony across all their platforms (NBC, Peacock, USA Network, CNBC, NBCOlympics.com, and the NBC Sports app) on Friday, which is the lowest number since NBCUniversal started broadcasting the Olympics in 1988.
Compared to the last winter games, that’s a 43% drop-off from the 28.3 million viewers that tuned in for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics opening ceremony in 2018. That’s a bit concerning for NBCUniversal as the 2018 Winter Games were the least-watched Olympics ever.
NBC likely saw this coming based on the ratings they saw from the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, where that opening ceremony drew 17 million viewers last July. At the time, that was the smallest U.S. audience for an opening ceremony in 33 years, though that distinction now belongs to the Beijing games.
Of course, it’s worth noting that ratings have been down for most major sporting events, save for the NFL, in recent years. However, these games are also dealing with a lot of potential roadblocks for audiences, including the time zone differentials for live events, concerns over China’s human rights violations, a U.S. diplomatic boycott, remote announcing crews, the lack of spectators due to COVID restrictions, and potentially the lack of access for non-Peacock subscribers.
NBC is still likely to be fine financially for the Olympics, especially given the sheer reach of the games in the eyes of advertisers. Those numbers may be dropping but they’re still higher than most things on TV and streaming services right now. And whatever boost they get in Peacock subscribers after the games are likely to be seen as a worthwhile cause. The games run through February 20, so there are plenty more big audiences to collect between now and then, even if they won’t be what they used to.