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NBC wins the gold in TV ratings race despite decline in Olympics viewership

A gymnast performs on the uneven bars.
Suni Lee won the gold medal in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around on Thursday, which had the highest ratings of the week with an average of 16.186 million viewers.
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Viewership for NBC’s first full week of prime-time coverage of the Tokyo Olympics dropped 52.4% from the same period for the 2016 Rio Games, but was still the largest weekly audience of any network since CBS aired Super Bowl LV.

NBC averaged 13.44 million viewers for its prime-time programming between July 26 and Sunday, which consisted entirely of Olympics programming, according to live-plus-same-day figures released by Nielsen Tuesday. CBS averaged 18.09 million viewers the week of Feb. 1-7 when it aired Super Bowl LV.

Factors for the drop include the 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and the U.S. east coast, which has meant fewer events occurring during prime time and increased viewing of streaming Olympics coverage, including live coverage of events NBC later shows in prime time. The Tokyo Games are on pace to become the most streamed media event.

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.

The week’s night with the highest ratings was Thursday, when an average of 16.186 million viewers watched coverage featuring American Suni Lee winning the gold medal in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around.

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The most-watched night of the first full week of the Rio Games averaged 33.44 million viewers for coverage of the U.S. victory in the women’s gymnastics team final. Coverage of the second-place finish by the U.S. in the women’s gymnastics team final in the Tokyo Games last Tuesday averaged 14.006 million viewers, third for the week.

USA Network, which featured Olympic programming, drew last week’s second-largest prime-time cable audience, averaging 1.677 million viewers. Fox News Channel was first, averaging 1.952 million. MSNBC was the only other cable network to average more than 1 million viewers in prime time last week, averaging 1.096 million viewers.

The week’s top rated non-Olympics program was Univision’s Spanish-language coverage of the United States’ 1-0 overtime victory over Mexico in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup men’s soccer tournament Sunday, which averaged 5.167 million viewers, ninth for the week.

The commercial-free opening 10 minutes of NBC’s Olympics coverage Saturday was considered a separate program and was eighth for the week.

The biggest audience for a non-sports program was an edition of “60 Minutes” with repeats of three previously broadcast segments that were updated for Sunday’s broadcast, which averaged 4.896 million viewers, 10th for the week.

The top ranked entertainment program was the Thursday edition of the CBS alternative series “Big Brother,” which averaged 3.858 million viewers, 11th for the week.

CBS finished second for the week, averaging 2.22 million viewers and ABC third, averaging 2.17 million. NBC, CBS and ABC each broadcast 22 hours of prime-time programming.

Fox averaged 980,000 viewers and the CW averaged 380,000 viewers for its 12 hours.

Five episodes of the Fox News Channel political talk show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” topped the prime-time cable ratings, led by last Tuesday’s episode, which averaged 3.013 million viewers, 21st overall.

The Monday through Thursday episodes of “Hannity” which follow “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” were sixth through ninth among prime-time cable programs.

“Manifest” topped the list of top 10 streamed programs for the third consecutive week, with viewers watching 1.869 billion minutes of its 29 episodes between June 28 and July 4, 9.4% less than the 2.064 billion minutes watched the previous week.


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