The Ups and Downs of the Beijing Winter Olympics

The Poynter Report with Tom Jones looks back at the Beijing Winter Olympics:

The Beijing Winter Olympic Games didn’t exactly produce gold-medal TV numbers in the United States.

An average of 10.7 million watched the games in prime time on NBC. If you throw in streaming and digital platforms, the number was 11.4 million. In the end, it goes down as the smallest prime-time audience for any Winter Olympics on record.

Lillian Rizzo of The Wall Street Journal quoted NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua as saying, “This was probably the most difficult Olympics of all time.”

Did COVID-19 have something to do with it? Probably. Certainly, little to no crowds in the stands at the games made for a less enjoyable viewing experience. In addition, NBC announcers called the games from studios in Stamford, Connecticut.

Bevacqua said, “We had 1,600 people in Stamford and 600 people in Beijing. Normally that would be flipped for us.”

There were other factors besides COVID-19. There was the time difference between the U.S. and China, negative feelings about China hosting the games because of its human rights reputation and other storylines, including a doping scandal in the women’s figure skating competition and the disappointing performance of American skier Mikaela Shiffrin. Plus, these games seemed devoid of elite star power.

Most of all, Olympic viewership and popularity have been declining in recent years.

If there is a silver lining for NBCUniversal, it’s that the streaming numbers and attention drawn to NBC’s Peacock were solid. And, while numbers were down compared to past Olympics, the broadcasts still beat the competition each night for the nearly three weeks of games.

Per Rizzo’s story: “NBC said the Olympics were the most-watched prime-time series since last summer’s Tokyo Games, excluding the NFL, according to data from the network and Nielsen”.

NBC has Olympic TV rights in the U.S. through 2032.

Meanwhile, it’s never too early to start looking ahead. The New York Times staff has “Seven Winter Olympians to Watch in 2026.”
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Also see the Washington Post column by Kathleen Parker headlined “Why the Olympics were a dud”

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