No one expected the TV ratings for the 2018 Winter Olympics to suprass the numbers from 2014. Not us, not other sports-media observers.

Not even NBC, as it turns out. At the halfway point of the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, those forecasts are turning out to be accurate: The total audience for the Olympics is down a bit from Sochi in 2014.

But the declines thus far have been smaller than NBC expected, which is allowing the network and its sports division to take an early victory lap.

“If you look at the total media landscape, if you are down roughly 5 percent over a four-year period, no one is doing as well as that in television. We are doing very well,” NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus told reporters on a conference call last week.

His figure is a little off — the total audience for the Olympics is down about 7 percent vs. 2014 — but according to Lazarus, the games are running ahead of the guarantees NBC gave to advertisers. Here’s how the numbers stack up through Friday, Feb. 16.

Day 2018 total audience (millions)* 2018 NBC only (millions) 2014 total audience (millions) 2018 total HH rating
2014 total HH rating
1st Thurs. 17.2 16.0 20.02 9.7 11.3
Opening ceremony 28.29 27.84 31.69 14.9 17.0
1st Sat. 24.16 21.39 25.12 13.1 13.9
1st Sun. 26.03 22.68 26.32 14.2 14.4
1st Mon. 22.34 20.3 22.40 12.7 12.8
1st Tues. 22.59 20.5 23.72 13.0 13.7
1st Weds. 19.16 17.04 20.81 11.2 12.1
2nd Thurs. 19.19 16.2 22.94 11.4 13.4
2nd Fri. 19.2 16.6 19.11 10.9 11.0
Averages 22.02 19.8 23.57 12.3 13.3
2018 vs. 2014 -6.6%     -7.5%

*2018 totals include primetime events on NBC Sports Network and live-streaming. In 2014, NBC was the only channel airing primetime coverage.

The fact that the Olympics are doing better than NBC means the network can sell additional ad time it held back in case the numbers fell short. Instead of offering “make-goods” to advertisers, NBC can now make more money on that reserved commercial inventory.

By comparison, the 2016 Summer Olympics were off 21 percent in viewers and 15 percent in household rating vs. the 2012 games. The current Olympics will almost certainly come in with smaller declines vs. 2014.

NBC Sports Network had its most-watched seven-day stretch of primetime programming ever from Feb. 10-16, and live streaming continues to grow exponentially. Through Sunday, NBC Sports Digital users had live-streamed 1.31 million minutes of Olympic events, three times more than the entire Sochi games.

The average streaming audience in primetime has been about 2 percent of the total viewership, consistent with other live sporting events this season.

Still, not everything is great for NBC. Although the adults 18-49 demographic isn’t the key sales metric for sports, these Olympics are down by considerably more in the demo than in overall audience:

Day 2018 18-49 rating (NBC + NBCSN)
2014 18-49 rating (NBC only)
1st Thurs. 4.1 6.0
Opening ceremony 6.5 8.6
1st Sat. 5.6 6.3
1st Sun. 6.5 7.2
1st Mon. 5.8 6.5
1st Tues. 5.7 6.6
1st Weds. 4.5 5.6
2nd Thurs. 4.7 5.9
Averages 5.4 6.6
2018 vs. 2014 -18.2%


Non-sports primetime ratings are down about 21 percent since 2014, and the 18-49 declines for the Olympics are closer to that figure than the overall numbers.

Since Lazarus spoke to reporters, overall ratings have also fallen off some (though not dramatically). The numbers will likely get a bump Tuesday and Thursday when the marquee event of women’s figure skating is featured in primetime, but the final days of the games tend to pull in smaller audiences.

The audience for hockey has also tailed off significantly without the presence of NHL players on national teams. Lazarus told ratings for the hockey tournament are off by more than 25 percent vs. 2014.

Despite that, Lazarus expects NBC to make its ratings guarantees for total audience delivery for the Olympics. In the current, everything’s-down climate, that counts as a win.

Posted by:Rick Porter

Rick Porter has been covering TV since the days when networks sent screeners on VHS, one of which was a teaser for the first season of "American Idol." He's left-handed, makes a very solid grilled cheese and has been editor of TV by the Numbers since October 2015. He lives in Austin.

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