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2020 Tokyo Olympics Was Most-Streamed Games Yet, Despite Fall of Traditional TV Numbers

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have come to a close, and the ratings are in. These Games presented new challenges for NBC, including the pandemic and consumers’ shift to streaming rather than traditional TV. Overall, streaming numbers are on the rise as traditional TV views fall. The same is true of the Olympics.

This year, NBC offered full coverage of the events through NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app. Many of the events were also available to stream on Peacock, the network’s streaming service.

According to a release from NBC, Peacock had its best two weeks of usage during the Tokyo Games. The streaming service also reported having over 54 million sign-ups and over 20 million monthly active accounts. Peacock offers both a free and a paid tier. It’s unclear which of those sign-ups and accounts were paid subscriptions versus free.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were expected to be a “meaningful driver” for Peacock. The streaming service was seen as a straggler, but NBC was hopeful that it would get the push it needed by offering Olympic coverage.

According to the NBC release, viewers streamed more than 4.3 billion minutes of content from Tokyo. They said that figure was up 22% from 2016 Rio and up 95% from 2018 PyeongChang.


Peacock is a subscription video streaming service from NBCUniversal that gives access to up to 15,000 hours of content including original shows, blockbuster movies, and classic television series.

It will include news, entertainment, sports, late-night, and reality from various NBCU properties including NBC, Bravo, and E!.

Just like other streaming services, Peacock will have their own original series including reboots of Save By The Bell, Punky Brewster, and Battlestar Galactica. They also have shows like Rutherford Falls (Ed Helms), Dr. Death (Alec Baldwin), and a behind-the-scenes docs-series about Saturday Night Live.

The company has acquired the rights to many classic shows like the entire Dick Wolf library including Law & Order and Chicago Fire, Parks and Recreation, and The Office.

The service will also feature blockbusters and critically-acclaimed films from Universal Pictures, Focus Features, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination and content acquired from Hollywood’s biggest studios.

The Olympics did not perform as well on traditional TV, however. NBC reports having an average of 15.5 million primetime viewers during the Olympics. This is NBC's lowest viewership since the 1988 Summer Olympics, which took place in Seoul, South Korea. The 1988 Summer Olympics were the first Games NBC broadcasted.

According to data from NBC Universal, primetime ratings for the Tokyo Games were down 42% from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The Tokyo Games averaged about 15.5 million viewers in primetime over the two weeks of the Games on NBC, according to data from Nielsen and Adobe Analytics. That figure was down from the 26.7 million figure who tuned in during NBC’s primetime coverage from Rio in 2016.

That remains high as compared to primetime programming in general, however, it is a major issue for NBC Universal, after ponying up billions for the rights to carry the Olympics through 2032.

Many different factors appear to have influenced the numbers for traditional TV. Due to the time difference, the pandemic, and the overall shift toward streaming, traditional TV usage is continuing to decline. Leichtman Research Group found that 80% of U.S. TV households have one or more internet-connected devices.

While it’s unclear how the Olympics will affect Peacock going forward, it’s safe to say that streaming is the future. NBC is now working to develop plans based on its experiences in Tokyo for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing next February.

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