Whether your thing was beach volleyball, track and field, swimming, equestrian, archery, team handball, the modern pentathlon or rhythmic gymnastics, clearly you tuned into NBC’s coverage of the XXX Olympic games. In fact, according to the network, Olympics coverage across all the NBCU TV platforms drew 219 million unique viewers, which, according to Variety magazine makes the recently concluded games the most-watched event in TV history in aggregate.
And of all the competitions, heartbreaks and triumphs, the event the most of you tuned into was the lavish, somewhat confounding opening ceremony, which rolled up 41 million pairs of eyes. The music-focused four-hour closing ceremonies, which featured sets from the Spice Girls, One Direction, the Who, George Michael, Ed Sheeran and a few musical numbers from comedian Russell Brand, didn’t do too shabbily, either, garnering an average of 31 million viewers for a 12 percent uptick over the 2008 closing ceremonies from Beijing, China.
That number nearly matched the average primetime viewership for NBC over two weeks for its nightly recaps of the days action, which drew 31.1 million viewers, also up 12 percent over Beijing and the highest numbers for a non-U.S. Summer Games since the 1976 Montreal Olympics. It’s a good thing, too, since the perennially ratings-challenged network spent $1.18 billion for the rights to air the games, which executives now expect will break even.
“The London Olympics exceeded all our expectations in viewership, digital consumption and revenue,” said NBCU CEO Steve Burke. The network spread its coverage out across NBC, Bravo, MSNBC, NBC Sport Network and Telemundo and streamed all the action on NBCOlympics.com. Social media critics dinged NBC for interrupting some performances in the opening and closing ceremonies and tape-delaying some of the events to boost primetime ratings. That may not be as big an issue in 2016 when the games move to Rio de Janeiro, which is only one hour ahead of the East Coast of the U.S. and should make primetime packaging a bit easier.