Olympics TV viewing figures down in multiplatform era

By James Cridland for
Posted 30 August 2016, 10.44pm edt

James Cridland

Television networks across the globe are, mostly, celebrating what they claim to be a "massive TV and online hit" from the Rio Olympics: despite a significant fall from London 2012.

The drop in audience in Europe was because of the timezone differences, say most commentators. Variety reports that the BBC's audience for the first few days was down from 39.2m to 24.6m.

Seven Network in Australia also saw a drop, with figures for the opening ceremony down by 15%. The company pointed to record streaming figures, and argued that the increasingly multiplatform nature of the Games meant that performance should be measured in a similar fashion.

The figures in the US, which is on roughly the same timezone as Rio, were underwhelming, with NBC's coverage of the opening ceremony slipping 35% from the London games, and the lowest viewership since the Athens Olympics of 2004. NBC, too, pointed to the multiplatform nature of their offering leading to increased viewer choice and therefore less linear viewing.

One US viewer, though, posted a long rant on Medium about the quality and availability of NBC's coverage. Others posted that the initials of the US network stood for "Nothing But Commercials", and criticised its approach.

Figures for multiplatform are less consistently available, and are poorly understood by many broadcasters. PEPPTV, an informal grouping of broadcaster industry groups and sales houses, released a press release claiming the BBC's online coverage had 68m "unique users" in the UK: a curious claim, given the UN estimate of the UK population is only 65m. The BBC's own press release claims a UK reach of 68.3m unique devices.

Rio 2016 opening ceremony - live, linear TV
Finland (YLE): 148,000 viewers (75% audience share)
Australia (7 Network): 2.3m (74%)
Netherlands (NPO): 623,000 (58%)
UK (BBC): 2.5m (52%)
Italy (RAI): 40%
Canada (CBC): 3.9m (38%)
France (France 2/Canal Plus): 1.4m (29%)
Germany (ARD/ZDF): 2.0m (30%)
Spain (RTVE): 914,000 (21.8%)
US (NBC): 26.5m (17%)

  • Source: PEPPTV, except highlighted. 'Audience share' in these figures is the share of everyone watching the TV at that moment; so the UK had about 5m people watching the TV of which half were watching the opening ceremony.

Press release

29 August 2016, Brussels – This year’s Olympic Games in Rio were a massive TV and online hit in every corner of the globe. Nine countries have put together TV viewing data for the opening and closing ceremonies and for high performing Olympic moments.

Different countries tuned in to different moments depending on the involvement of their own competitors. For example, Andre de Grasse winning the silver medal for the 200 meter sprint athletics for Canada was watched by 7.2 million Canadians, and Germany playing Brazil in the football final attracted 8.3 million German fans. And, although live TV audiences for the opening and closing ceremonies were lower than for the London Olympics due to time differences, millions still watched at all hours of the day.

Rio was a much bigger online hit than London. Most countries reached new online records. BBC Sport’s coverage reached 102 million unique users globally, with 68 million coming from the UK. This represents the biggest success ever for BBC Sport’s digital service. 150 million videos from France Télévisions were watched on its websites, apps and external platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram – six times more than the London Games. The Netherlands also set online records with a total audience of 6.5 million unique visitors on the online platforms of NPO, a growth of 27% compared to London.

Katty Roberfroid, Director General of egta comments on behalf of PEPPTV: “The Olympic Games in Rio once again proved the power of live TV and its capacity to bring people together. Broadcasters throughout Europe have reasons to be proud of the audience figures achieved during the Games in Brazil. The Games evidently prove that live events – and especially sport events – are the biggest asset for TV broadcasters. This is what makes TV so relevant, so appealing to massive audiences and so social. There is no alternative medium that reaches and impacts such a big crowd as TV does.”

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.


4 years, 8 months ago

'The BBC's online coverage had 68m "unique users" in the UK: a curious claim, given the UN estimate of the UK population is only 65m'...

Part of the 3 million+ ''extra viewers'' could be contributed by the high season of incoming holidaymakers to the UK, especially on a rainy day or two! An example being the potential increase of viewers in east central Scotland during the Edinburgh Festival activities!

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