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NBC’s Olympic odds in Tokyo plunge

During most nights of the Tokyo Olympics, NBC’s prime-time coverage draws about half of the audience that the Games had in Rio de Janeiro five years ago.

The numbers are sobering: Sunday’s NBC audience of 13 million was down 51% from the 26.7 million who watched the corresponding night in Rio. Saturday night was down 57%, last Wednesday down 53% and Tuesday down 58%, the Nielsen company said.

NBC’s best night last week, when it hit 16.2 million on Thursday, was still down 43% from Rio, Nielsen said.

“We had some bad luck,” NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Shell said last week. “There was a drumbeat of negativity… and it resulted in linear notes probably lower than we expected.”

COVID restrictions that have left arenas largely empty, the jet lag with Japan and the star’s lack of star power have played a role. Add cable networks and streaming, and NBC Universal’s position improves, but not by much.

The marked change in the way people view television over the past five years is playing a role in declining ratings. NBC’s prime-time viewing has had, on average, 35% fewer viewers this season than in 2015-16, Nielsen said.

A saving grace is NBC’s dominance over its rivals. In fact, last week Fox averaged less than a million prime-time viewers, which would be the first time this has happened for any of the four major broadcast networks.

NBC averaged 13.4 million prime-time viewers last week. CBS had 2.22 million, ABC 2.17 million, Univision 1.9 million, Ion Television 1.1 million and Fox and Telemundo tied at 980,000.

Fox News Channel leads the cable network with an average of 1.95 million prime-time viewers. The United States had 1.68 million, MSNBC 1.1 million, HGTV 979,000, and TLC 882,000.

ABC’s “World News Tonight” topped the race for evening news ratings with an average of 7.5 million viewers. NBC’s “Nightly News” had 7.2 million and the “CBS Evening News” had 4.8 million.

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