The good news for NBC during this Olympics is that its increased digital efforts are paying off. Streaming of Olympic events more than tripled over the first five days of competition compared to the same time at the 2012 Olympics.

The bad news is that NBC’s prime-time ratings, even with digital and cable added in, are still running behind 2012.

NBC has been touting its “total audience delivery” numbers from the games, rolling up average prime-time viewing for the broadcast network as well as live streaming and Olympics programming on NBC Sports Network and Bravo. From Saturday through Tuesday, cable and streaming have pushed the total audience up by an average of 10 percent:

Date Total audience (millions) NBC only (millions) Cable/digital lift
Fri. 8/5 26.5 26.5 n/a
Sat. 8/6 23.5 20.6 14%
Sun. 8/7 31.8 29.8 7%
Mon. 8/8 31.5 28.9 9%
Tues. 8/9 36.1 33.4 8%


Even with those cable and digital numbers added in, however, the 2016 Olympics are still trailing the 2012 Olympics. The gap has closed some in recent days — Monday’s total audience was essentially equal to the same day in London — but it’s still behind.

Day 2016 total audience (millions) 2016 NBC only (millions) 2012 total audience (millions) 2016 total HH rating 2012 total HH rating
Opening ceremony (Fri.) 26.5 26.5 40.7 13.9 21.0
1st Sat. 23.5 20.6 28.7 13.0 15.8
1st Sun. 31.8 29.8 36.0 17.3 19.8
1st Mon. 31.5 28.9 31.6 18.1 18.0
1st Tues. 36.1 33.4 38.7 20.5 21.8
Averages 29.88 27.84 35.14 16.6 19.3

Note: 2012 figures are NBC only as there was no live streaming or simultaneous cable coverage in primetime. Source: NBC/The Nielsen Company.

The NBC-only numbers are worse, as noted in the table. In 2012 the broadcast network was the only option in primetime, as there was no simultaneous live stream or cable coverage (U.S. primetime is the middle of the night in London, after all).

Younger viewers have also left the Olympics in larger numbers than the audience as a whole. Through Tuesday, the 2016 games were averaging 27.84 million viewers on NBC vs. 35.14 million in 2012, a drop of about 21 percent. In the adults 18-49 demographic, however, this year’s 8.2 rating through the first five days lags 27 percent behind London’s 11.2.

The streaming news is much better. Through Wednesday, users had streamed more than a billion minutes of live coverage from Rio, a 232 percent increase over the same period in London. It’s also already passed the amount of streaming for the full competition in London (818 million minutes).

It’s also fair to note that the London Olympics were NBC’s highest-rated ever for an Olympiad staged outside the United States and surpassed the network’s expectations by a whole lot. The NBC-only audience for these games is currently on par with that of 2008 (27.7 million); ratings typically go down some in the second week of the games, so they will likely end up somewhere between 1992 in Barcelona (25.9 million) and 2004 in Athens (24.6 million).

Before the 2012 Olympics, NBC had predicted ratings would fall about 20 percent from Beijing. It looks like the network was one Olympics off in its prediction.

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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