Television ratings for NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have lagged well behind those of the 2012 Games in London.
Although the ratings improved Monday, the jury is still out on whether they will be big enough to satisfy advertisers that spent $1.2 billion on the Games.
The Games averaged a 14.3 household rating on its first three nights, a worrisome trend as it was below the audience promised to advertisers. A household rating point represents 1% of the homes in U.S. with TVs.
By comparison, the Games in London averaged a 17.5 rating over 17 days.
Monday brought a ray of relief for NBC when network coverage averaged 31.5 million viewers, matching the audience level in London. On Monday the Games averaged a 18.1 household rating, in the range of what was promised to companies that bought commercials on the telecasts.
NBC had anticipated a lift in the TV ratings compared with London because the time zone in Rio would enable most of the prime-time competition to be live, as opposed to the packaged, taped-delayed coverage of four years ago.
NBC was hurt most by the opening ceremony, which was off 34% from 2012. Anecdotally, the drop was attributed to the U.S. team appearing too early in the ceremony.
Another factor: Viewers, especially younger ones, are watching Olympic content throughout the day on streaming devices. Viewing online is not included in the Nielsen ratings.
If NBC falls short of the ratings goal, it will have to give advertisers free commercials to make up the difference. NBC is prepared for the possibility, as some commercial time on the Olympics are held in reserve in the event that ratings are lower than promised.
As a rule in TV sales, networks prefer to fall a little short of the guarantee as long as they can make up the difference. NBC can also use promotional time it allocated to its fall shows for so-called make-good commercials.
But a substantial shortfall would hurt the profit projections NBCUniversal executives have stated for the Olympics. The company has said strong sales for the Olympics would bring in more than the $120 million in profit realized in London.