Ouch! NBC's Winter Olympics Coverage Down 42% From Four Years Earlier

The Beijing Winter Olympics was anything but a gold medal performance for Comcast Corp.’s CMCSA NBCUniversal division, with viewership down 42% from the 2018 games held in PyeongChang, South Korea.

What Happened: The New York Times reported an average of 11.4 million U.S. viewers watched the Olympics each night across NBCUniversal’s broadcast, streaming and online platforms, which marked the smallest prime-time audience on record for any Winter Games. Four years ago, an average of 19.8 million nightly viewers tuned in for the Pyeongchang Games.

This marked the second time within a year that NBCUniversal generated dismal ratings for Olympics coverage – last year’s Summer Olympics brought in the smallest audience since 1988, when NBCUniversal began broadcasting the quadrennial event in the U.S.

NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua insisted on accentuating the positive on his network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics, which ran from Feb. 4-20, as well as the Tokyo Summer Games that took place July 30-Aug. 8, 2021 – that event was delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the face of unprecedented challenges over the past six months, our production team showcased the thrilling competition, told the memorable stories and provided the important global context that continue to make NBC Olympics’ presentations of the summer and winter games must-see, appointment viewing,” said Bevacqua in a statement. “With dominant audiences on NBC, USA Network and Peacock, we continue to adapt and evolve across all platforms.”

NBC Sports reported viewers streamed 4.3 billion minutes of Olympics coverage on Peacock, which streamed all the events. The network reported video views across all of its social media platforms were up 69% from four years earlier. However, the network has yet to offer specific viewership numbers for its Peacock coverage.

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Why It Happened: While every Olympiad has its share of controversies and challenges, and the Beijing Winter Olympics was no exception. China’s human rights record – particularly in its treatment of the Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang province – was called into question ahead of the games by many governments and non-governmental organizations. While some countries, including the U.S., offered a diplomatic boycott of the Games by declining to have government officials attend the competition, NBC mostly avoided inserting politics into its sports coverage.

A spike in COVID cases prior to the start of the event forced Chinese authorities to ban most spectators from the Olympic venues. NBC Universal cited the COVID threat in keeping most of its on-camera broadcast team in a Connecticut studio rather than send them to China for on-site coverage.

There was also surprisingly little for most Americans to root for in these Winter Olympics. The National Hockey League decided not to send its athletes to Beijing, and the U.S. hockey team was eliminated in the quarterfinals – the team also became the subject of a noise complaint in the Olympic Village from a raucous party held after their loss. Eileen Gu, an American-born skier, opted to compete for China, her mother’s birthplace, and won three gold medals for the host country. Returning Olympic champions including skier Mikaela Shiffrin and snowboarder Shaun White came home empty-handed.

Perhaps the biggest story from the event, the doping scandal involving 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva and the harsh treatment she received from her team after a poor performance on the ice, left many viewers unhappy.

The next Winter Olympics will be held in 2026 in the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo, while the Summer Olympics are scheduled for Paris in 2024.

Photo: The opening ceremonies of the Beijing Winter Olympics, courtesy Kremlin.ru / Wikimedia Commons

Posted In: Beijing Winter OlympicsChinaEileen GuKamila ValievaMikaela ShiffrinnbcuniversalPete BevacquaShaun WhiteEntertainmentNewsSportsMediaGeneral

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