NBC wins the week, despite significant drop in Olympics viewership

Naomi Osaka stands beside the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Naomi Osaka stands beside the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony at the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 23 in Tokyo.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Despite significantly lower viewership than during the 2016 Summer Games, the first three nights of prime-time coverage of the Tokyo Olympics enabled NBC to draw the largest weekly audience of any network since CBS aired Super Bowl LV.

NBC’s coverage Sunday averaged 16.862 million viewers, the most for any program since “Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special,” which averaged 17.813 million viewers March 7, according to live-plus-same-day figures released Tuesday by Nielsen.

Friday’s prime-time replay of the opening ceremony, which was shown live that morning, averaged 11.976 million viewers, fourth among prime-time programs airing between July 19 and Sunday.


Viewership was down 54.8% from the 26.49-million average for the opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Games, which were shown on a one-hour delay in the Eastern and Central time zones, where the bulk of the nation’s population lives. Saturday’s coverage averaged 12.642 million viewers, second for the week.

NBC averaged 13.827 million viewers for the first three nights of coverage, 48.2% less than the 26.7 million average for the same period of the Rio Games.

For the week, NBC averaged 8.07 million viewers, the most for any network since CBS’ 18.09 million the week of Feb. 1-7, when it aired Super Bowl LV.

Official viewership for nearly all programming is down compared to the past, mainly because of increased viewing of streaming programming, including programming originally airing on traditional television.

Although Olympics’ ratings on NBC have dropped, coverage is setting streaming records, Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Universal Television and Streaming, said in a statement.

ABC was second, averaging 3.48 million viewers, and CBS third, averaging 2.27 million. Fox was fourth, averaging 1.31 million. The CW again was fifth among the five major English-language broadcast networks, averaging 530,000 viewers.


The biggest audience for a non-Olympics program was ABC’s coverage of the Milwaukee Bucks’ championship-clinching 105-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns on July 20; the game averaged 12.518 million viewers, third for the week.

The six-game series averaged 9.891 million viewers, 32.1% higher than the record-low average of 7.487 million for the Lakers’ six-game victory over the Miami Heat in the 2020 Finals, which faced unprecedented sports competition.

Viewership was down 34.6% from the 15.129-million average for the Toronto Raptors’ six-game victory over the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 Finals, which were played in the traditional month of June. ABC has carried the NBA Finals since 2003.

With episodes of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” accounting for the four top ranked prime-time cable programs, followed by three from “Hannity,” Fox News Channel won the cable network race for the third consecutive week, averaging 2.049 million viewers.

The Tuesday episode of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was the week’s highest-rated cable program, averaging 3.108 million viewers, for 20th place.

MSNBC was second among cable networks, averaging 1.214 million viewers for its prime-time programming. HGTV was third, averaging 1.068. The other cable networks to average more than 1 million viewers in prime time for the week were the USA Network, with 1.052 million, and the Hallmark Channel, with 1.008 million.


“Manifest” topped the list of the most-watched streamed programs for the second consecutive week, with viewers watching 2.064 billion minutes of the 29 episodes of the first two seasons of the canceled NBC supernatural drama. Viewership for June 21-27 was 17.2% less than the 2.493 billion minutes the previous week.