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NBC's coverage of the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympic Games averaged close to 14 million U.S. television viewers, according to preliminary data provided by NBCUniversal on Saturday, about half the TV audience for the last Winter Games opening ceremony four years ago. Across all platforms, including the USA Network, NBC Sports app and Peacock streaming service, NBC's average audience reached nearly 16 million people, the company said in an email.
The opening ceremony for the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games, which historically attracts a bigger audience than the Winter Games, drew 16.7 million TV viewers. Across all platforms, 17 million people watched the ceremony.
Traditional TV viewing has seen a decline in recent years as viewers have embraced streaming, making comparisons difficult.
The 14 million figure includes the TV audience for the live NBC broadcast that began at 6:30 a.m. EST Friday, as well as the primetime broadcast that began at 8 p.m. EST. The PyeongChang opening ceremony in 2018, in South Korea, drew 27.9 million TV viewers for just a primetime broadcast.
The Games opened on Friday night in a snow- and ice-themed ceremony at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing that concluded with the cauldron lit by two young Chinese Olympians, one of them a member of China's Uyghur minority.
During a performance that went longer than scheduled on a frigid night in the Chinese capital, President Xi Jinping declared the opening of an Olympics whose preparations were beset by the pandemic and criticism over human rights in China.
The Beijing Games, the second Olympics broadcast by NBC during the coronavirus pandemic, present an opportunity for the network, owned by Comcast Corp, to refine its strategy based on what it learned last summer. Its broadcast of the Tokyo Games, which were delayed for a year because of the pandemic, drew the smallest audience for the Summer Games since NBC began broadcasting them in 1988. Yet the competitions still pulled in the biggest audiences on television when they aired, making them attractive showcases for advertisers.
For Beijing, NBC said it is doing more to simplify the viewing experience, addressing criticism that last summer's content was difficult to find across the company's many platforms, including its Peacock streaming service.
NBC is streaming every Beijing event live on Peacock's premium tier, in addition to airing coverage across the NBC broadcast network, USA Network and CNBC cable networks, NBCOlympics.com website and NBC Sports app. It is also offering a customizable schedule on NBCOlympics.com, and air on-screen cues during studio segments that remind viewers what's coming up.
NBCUniversal paid $7.65 billion to extend its U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics through 2032.