Winter Olympics Ratings Were Down From 2014, but NBC Still Dominated Its Network Competition

Network hauled in $920 million in national ad sales, a Winter Games record

NBC’s broadcast of the closing ceremony Sunday drew a total audience of 14.8 million, down 3 percent from 2014. Getty Images
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NBC’s Olympics coverage dominated the television and media landscape over the 18-day span. The network’s prime-time coverage averaged a Total Audience Delivery of 19.8 million, a figure that dwarfs the average audience of the network’s prime-time network competition.

Approximately 18 million of the roughly 20 million viewers who watched the games each night in prime time watched on NBC only. That’s 82 percent more than ABC, CBS and Fox’s combined totals in prime time on each night NBC aired the Olympics (9.8 million average viewers combined). The 82 percent viewership advantage for NBC is an Olympics record.

NBC Olympics’ Total Audience Delivery provided an 11 percent lift over the NBC-only audience. The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics was the first Winter Games with live prime-time side-by-side coverage on broadcast, cable and livestreaming. The TAD metric takes viewing on broadcast, cable and digital into account.

But even with cable and digital included in the ratings, the 2018 Games were the least-watched since NBC scored the rights to the Winter Olympics in 2002. Taking into account NBC’s TAD metric, Pyeongchang was down 7 percent from the Sochi Games in 2014 (21.3 million viewers). The second-least-watched NBC Winter Games was the 2006 Games in Torino at 20.2 million, while the most-watched was Salt Lake City in2002 (31.9 million viewers).

Salt Lake City also was the top-rated market when it came to NBC’s Olympics coverage. The winter sports-crazed market averaged a 21.1 rating across the 18 days of Pyeongchang. The No.2 market was Denver with a 20.2 rating.

NBC’s broadcast of the closing ceremony Sunday posted a TAD of 14.8 million. That’s down 3 percent from NBC’s audience for the 2014 closing ceremony (15.2 million).

There were two days of prime-time audience growth relative to the same night of the Sochi Games. On the second Tuesday of Pyeongchang, 20.5 million viewers tuned in to see Lindsey Vonn’s final Olympics downhill in prime time. The 20.5 million figure was up 8 percent from the second Tuesday of the Sochi Games. Additionally, NBC Olympics averaged a TAD of 13.5 million on the final Saturday of Pyeongchang, which was up 2 percent from the final Saturday of 2014.

Despite ratings declines from previous Winter Games, Pyeongchang was an economic success for NBC.

“We finished Pyeongchang with more than $920 million in national ad sales, a Winter Games record,” noted NBC Broadcasting and Sports chairman Mark Lazarus. “We added more than $20 million once the games began due to viewership exceeding our advertiser guarantees.”

Lazarus and NBC are still confident in the power of the Olympics despite audience losses. The network has rights to the games through 2032.

“Our long-term Olympics rights agreement through 2032 is the best in all of media,” Lazarus said. “With Tokyo, Beijing, Paris and Los Angeles coming up as hosts—and coming off of four consecutive profitable Games—we are very bullish on our investment.”

Multiple NBCUniversal platforms, including NBC (176 hours), NBCSN (369 hours), CNBC (46 hours), USA (40.5 hours) and Sports app (1,800-plus hours) offered the most in-depth coverage in the history of the Winter Olympics, a total of over 2,400 hours.

“From a record-setting performance of the home team, to the comeback stories of Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn, the emergence of Chloe Kim, or the epic team accomplishments of the U.S. women’s ice hockey team and U.S. men’s curling team, the Olympics never fail to deliver magical moments and indelible stories,” said NBC Olympics president of production and programming Jim Bell.

February was an extraordinary month for NBCUniversal in general. The company’s average prime-time television viewership for Super Bowl Sunday and Winter Games coverage (26.9 million viewers, through Thursday) nearly tripled the combined total of its rival broadcast networks (9.4 million for Fox, ABC and CBS combined).

NBC is the No. 1 TV network across the board for the first time since winning the 2001-2002 broadcast season, per Nielsen.

Buoyed by Winter Games coverage, February will also finish as NBCSN’s most-watched month ever, with an average total-day viewership of 743,000 viewers.

@ajkatztv A.J. Katz is the senior editor of Adweek's TVNewser.