Tokyo Olympic Games opening, world’s most-watched events record lowest audience turnouts in history

NBC’s TV broadcast of the Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony hit a record low at 16.7 million viewers, the lowest TV audience for the event in the past 33 years.NBC has broadcast the event since 1988.

Due to the pandemic, the Tokyo Olympic Games opening event was  scaled-down with fewer than 1,000 attendees at the Olympic Stadium under strict social distancing rules.

The prevailing impact of the pandemic has caused many events around the world to be cancelled or postponed due to regulations and government-imposed restrictions of large gatherings. However, the shift to the “online” or “virtual” events to replace the in-person has proven that the world could successfully manage, but at the cost of the drastic decline in ratings for the world’s most-watched shows, from sporting events to global award shows.

NBCUniversal disclosed that across all platforms, including and the NBC Sports app, 17 million people watched the ceremony.

The streaming audience on those platforms grew 76% from the 2018 PyeongChang opening ceremony and 72% from the 2016 Rio opener, reflecting a change in viewing habits.

NBCUniversal, which paid $7.65 billion to extend its U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics through 2032, is framing the games as a “healing” event, despite skepticism from many Japanese citizens about the wisdom of holding even a scaled-down Games during a pandemic. The TV ratings drop is part of a trend among live TV events, including awards shows and sports.

February’s Super Bowl broadcast on CBS, a ViacomCBS (VIAC.O)unit, attracted an average of about 92 million viewers, according to Nielsen data, the lowest since 2006. The April Oscars telecast on Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) ABC broadcast network averaged 10.4 million, a record low, Nielsen said. Audiences for the most recent Emmys and Grammys also hit new lows.

The 2021 Grammy’s which aired in March drew just 8.8 million total viewers, a 53% drop from the 2020 audience of 18.7 million. The Grammy’s, traditionally referred as the world’s biggest Music Awards night recorded its least watched show in history;  both the Golden Globes and the Emmy Awards also dropped to historic lows.

Super Bowl, the most-streamed game ever, saw its viewership drop to a multi-decade low. The Super Bowl is traditionally the most watched event on TV. But this year’s viewership was down considerably from last year’s game, which had an average of 101 million viewers across multiple channels and streaming outlets. The big game had a total audience of 92 million viewers on CBS.



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