In the end, the Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 was no Vancouver 2010 for NBC ratingswise — but it also wasn’t Nagano 1998 or Torino 2006. In fact, the 2014 Sochi Games are the lowest-rated primetime Olympics in the adults 18-49 demographic ever. From the start to Sunday’s Closing Ceremony, the 17 total days of Winter Games drew a 5.5 rating in the key demo with 21.386 million viewers on average. If you take away the pre-Opening Ceremony bonus day — an Olympics first — the demo rating stays the same for NBC, but the average audience dips a bit to 21.321 million. Full days to full days and apples-to-apples, that’s down 16% from Vancouver’s 6.6 rating and almost 10% from the previous low of Torino’s 6.1. In terms of viewers, Sochi was behind the 24.370 million who watched the Vancouver Games but a nose ahead of the 20.242 million who tuned for the Torino Games. Sochi was just a touch behind the audience of 21.447 million that the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics garnered. Sochi’s 12.3/20 household rating is essentially on par with the 12.2/20 of Torino for another all-time Olympic low. Check out our list of Olympic demo lows below.
Sochi’s demo low and near viewership low comes after an Olympics that day-to-day eclipsed the almost live Vancouver Games only twice in its tape-delayed primetime coverage and consistently hovered even or dipped below the tape-delayed broadcasts of eight years ago from Italy.
“Americans aren’t going to watch as much if they can get the results on their phones and they are not going to watch without recognized names,” a network insider told me. With more digital access points available to consumers than ever before, waiting for a primetime package of events that already happened and medals you already knew had been awarded seemed archaic — perhaps one reason why a cable drama beat the Olympics head-to-head three Sundays in a row as The Walking Dead did. Added to that, the overall 2014 results are on top of the Sochi Closing Ceremony hitting an all-time Olympics ratings low with a 3.2/8 in fast nationals and an 8.7/13 in households. With an audience of 15.1 million, Sunday’s tape-delayed 8:30-10: 30 PM broadcast inched in front of the 14.8 million who watched the Closing Ceremony of the Torino games on February 26, 2006 to secure the second lowest viewership spot. With other coverage, much of it live, on NBC Sports Network, USA Network, CNBC and MSNBC, overall NBC estimates that the Sochi Olympics had 242.3 million media exposures — a 1.4% rise over the 238.8 million media exposures the network says the Vancouver Games saw.
The fact is, with the exception of gold-winning ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White on February 17 — which provided the one of the two nights when Sochi beat Vancouver in the demo — Team USA didn’t garner much traction in Russia despite ending up with the same medal count as 2010. Despite building profiles and crafting narratives for domestic superstars, Lindsay Vonn dropping out before the Games began due to an injury started the bad luck for NBC. Then Shaun White and Bode Miller fell short and U.S. champion skater Gracie Gold never took off. The men’s hockey team didn’t medal and the women’s team earned only silver against Canada. Then there was the trio of hosts, with an eye-infected Bob Costas being subbed by Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira during the first week.
Outside of the athletics and the broadcasts, the Olympics did seem deliver to NBC a strong lift-off for Jimmy Fallon as the new host of The Tonight Show. With Olympics viewership providing some wind in his sails, the former Late Night frontman’s first week of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon captured the highest audience numbers the late-night franchise has had in more than 20 years. That might end up being the true legacy of Sochi for NBC.