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Tokyo Olympics opening sees 33-year low in TV viewership, with 16.7 million U.S. viewers

Across all platforms, viewership was only 17 million.

Published: July 25, 2021 2:06pm

Updated: July 25, 2021 3:35pm

The Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony broadcast on NBC saw the lowest U.S. television viewership in 33 years, with just 16.7 million viewers, based on NBCUniversal's preliminary data on Saturday.

Total viewership across all platforms, including the NBC Sports app and, was 17 million, NBCUniversal said in an email, according to Reuters.

While the streaming audience increased 76% from the 2018 PyeongChang opening ceremony and 72% from Rio's in 2016, the total viewership was the lowest since the 1988 Seoul Games, with 22.7 million TV viewers.

TV viewership of the Tokyo opening ceremony decreased "37% from 2016, when 26.5 million people watched the Rio de Janeiro Games opener, and 59% from 2012, when 40.7 million people watched the London ceremony," Reuters reported. However, the final ratings data is not yet available for the Tokyo opener, Reuters noted.

The Tokyo Olympics are scaled down because of COVID-19 restrictions, with less than 1,000 people attending the games in the Olympic Stadium.

COVID-19 restrictions also kept some of the athletes from participating in their teams' parade during the opening ceremony, as many have "to fly in just before their competitions and leave shortly after to limit social contact," according to Reuters.

NBCUniversal "paid $7.65 billion to extend its U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics through 2032," Reuters reported, and "signed over 120 advertisers for the games [this year], more than any other Olympics broadcast."

In June, NBCUniversal said it "was on track to exceed the $1.2 billion in ads sold for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but declined to say whether it would beat the $1.25 billion sold last year before the Tokyo Games were postponed."

Despite the drop in viewership in the 2016 Olympics from the 2012 Olympics, NBC earned more than $250 million in 2016, with ad sales increased by over 20%.

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