It was apparent from the start of the just-ended Tokyo Olympics that ratings were down significantly from the Summer Games in 2016 in Rio and 2012 in London, and that continued throughout the two weeks. NBC’s overall TV audience was down an average of about 45 percent from Rio and prime-time viewership was down by 51 percent. So what happened? Here’s some ideas from Yahoo! Sports: 

  • Fractured audiences – All kinds of TV viewership, including sports, is down since the start of the pandemic, and part of that is because there are so many more entertainment options now, including streaming. 
  • The pandemic – The lack of cheering crowds in the empty stands made it seem less exciting to watch, and some people may not have turned in because they didn’t think the Games should’ve even been held amid the ongoing pandemic. Journalists also weren’t able to get as much of the local flavor that’s usually present because of strict pandemic restrictions, which meant a lot more of hosts  just talking.
  • The rise of streaming – More things are moving to streaming, and there was also criticism that NBC’s options across cable channels and streaming were confusing and need to be made more clear for viewers. 
  • Time zone displacement – Japan is 13 hours ahead of East Coast time in the U.S., so many people knew the outcome of events already and may even have already seen them. Additionally, some of the events that did air live were often late into the night and early morning in U.S. time. 
  • Star power, or the lack thereof – There weren’t the kind of names of the past like Michael PhelpsUsain Bolt or LeBron James, and the  two athletes who did possibly have that kind of recognition didn’t compete much: Simone Biles, because of her “twisties” problem, and tennis player Naomi Osaka, who lost early on. 
  • The impact of politics – Yahoo! Sports suggested that some athletes being more politically vocal might have played a role in some viewers not tuning in.