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Americans Are Tuning Out Olympics Hosted by China

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Fireworks, forming the Olympic rings, illuminate the sky during the opening ceremony. (Li Xin/Xinhua via AP)
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In the case of ratings, though, topping that has meant producing record lows.

Through the first four nights of competition, NBC is on track for the lowest-rated Winter Games in history. Friday night’s coverage on NBC, USA Network, and Peacock averaged 12.8 million viewers, significantly down from the 27.8 million average in Pyeongchang four years ago.

Smallest Primetime Audience Ever

Thursday night’s audience of 8 million marks the smallest primetime Olympics audience on record, surpassing the 9 million that tuned in for the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Games.

NBC saw a steady increase in viewers Saturday and Sunday night, but the ratings are down more than half compared to Pyeongchang. Preliminary figures from Saturday show 13.6 million, and 13.7 million from Sunday.

The numbers are stark but not a surprise. Strained relations between the United States and China due to economic and human rights issues, another Olympics held during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a lack of buzz coming into the Games have been significant factors.

China Brings Subliminal Negative Factors: Pilson

“There are a whole range of subliminal factors that are negatives when it comes to an event in China,” said Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports who now runs his own sports television consulting company. “It just adds to the obvious issues, and it leads to the American public being not as interested in the Games this year.”

The 2018 Pyeongchang Games marked the first time since 2006 that no night averaged at least 30 million viewers. Last year’s Tokyo Olympics averaged above 20 million only one of 17 nights, and produced the nine smallest Summer Games primetime audiences going back to 1992.

While some have criticized NBC for broadcasting from Beijing, the host city was not set in 2014 when the network reached a $7.75 billion deal with the International Olympic Committee for rights through 2032.

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