Streaming Olympics: YouTube Viewing During Tokyo Games Jumped Seven Times Over Rio

You’ve probably heard that the Tokyo Olympics were a ratings flop for NBC. But by all measures, it was the most-streamed Olympics ever.

NBC’s traditional primetime TV ratings for the coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics were the lowest in the broadcaster’s history — the worst since it first started airing the games in 1988. The viewership drops led NBC to negotiate make-goods with advertisers for failing to deliver promised audiences. Overall, NBC’s Tokyo Olympics primetime coverage averaged 15.6 million viewers per evening, a 42% decline from Rio.

Among digital audiences, though, the Olympics were more popular than ever.

During the Tokyo Games, which ran July 23-Aug. 8, YouTube viewers watched more than 200 million hours of Olympics-related content (including historical footage of past Olympic Games). According to the video platform, that’s seven times the amount of hours of Olympic Games content YouTube visitors watched during Rio 2016.

In addition, YouTube said, Olympics content was viewed more than 190 million times per day during Tokyo, five times more than the average daily views during Rio five years ago. Some 5,000 hours of Olympics content were uploaded to YouTube from broadcasters around the world, including livestreams of opening and closing ceremonies, clips of memorable moments and highlights across the 33 Olympic sports.

Meanwhile, NBC Sports touted more than 4.4 billion minutes (73.3 million hours) of Tokyo Olympics content streamed across NBCOlympics.com, the NBC Sports app and Peacock — up 25% from 2016 Rio and up 101% versus the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. And it said the average minute audience of 477,000 viewers in primetime was the best ever for an Olympics.

NBCUniversal had been banking on the Olympics to goose usage of Peacock. And, according to the company Peacock registered its highest two weeks of usage during the Summer Games. The Tokyo Olympics helped downloads of the Peacock app to nearly double in July over the month prior, per analytics firm Apptopia.

Amid all the handwringing over the drop in TV viewership, NBCU CEO Jeff Shell insisted on Comcast’s earnings call last month that the company would turn a profit on the Tokyo Olympics. NBCU has said it expects Tokyo to top the $1.2 billion in ad revenue it pulled in for the Rio Games.

The dust hasn’t settled on the financial accounting for the Tokyo Games for NBCU. But as consumers’ viewing habits increasingly shift from TV to digital outlets, it’s worth keeping in mind that old-fashioned television is just one piece of the monetization pie for media-rights holders.

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