The primetime coverage of the Rio Summer Olympics continues to trend way down from the 2012 London games. The first night of competition on NBC on Saturday garnered 20.7 million viewers from 8:30-11:05 PM ET/PT. That was down 28% from the comparable night of the Olympics in London (28.7 million from 8:30-11:28 PM), which had ranked as the most-watched Summer Games opening night on record. Last night’s average edged Day 1 of the Athens games in 2004 for the second-smallest audience since 1992 (see chart below).

Olympic Rings featured
International Olympic Committee

Last night’s NBC primetime block featured men’s gymnastics qualifying round and swimming, which yielded three silver medals for the U.S. In 2012, the Day 1 lineup included the much-hyped faceoff between American swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in the 400 IM.

Of course, the way people consume television has evolved dramatically during the past four years. NBC is providing more live-streaming opportunities than ever, in addition to expanded cable coverage. With Rio only an hour ahead of East Coast time vs five hours for London, boosting live viewing, Saturday was the best day ever for NBC Olympics digital platforms, with 155 million live streaming minutes, the network said. That was up 263% from the comparable day in 2012. The number of unique users was up slightly to 11.3 million (7%).

NBC Sports Logo

NBCSN’s full-day coverage on Saturday (9 AM-midnight ET) drew 1.8 million viewers — up 45% from the comparable day in 2012. The network also was ahead of the 2012 Olympics with its soccer coverage on Thursday and Friday.

NBC notes that while its Saturday primetime average was down vs. 2012, the other U.S. broadcast networks are off too, giving NBC a 381% competitive advantage against all of them combined, the biggest ever for a network on Saturday.

And MSNBC and Bravo’s Saturday primetime viewership (not included in NBC’s tally) was 1.5 million and 705,000, respectively. NBC will provide total audience numbers later this week.

NBC’s coverage of the Rio games’ Opening Ceremony on Friday night drew 26.5 million total viewers, down a big 35% from the all-time audience high of London (40.7 million).


1. London – 2012 28.7 million NBC
2. Atlanta – 1996 26.3 million NBC
3. Beijing – 2008 24 million NBC
4. Seoul – 1988 23.8 million NBC
5. Barcelona – 1992 21.6 million NBC
6. Sydney – 2000 21 million NBC
7. Rio – 2016 20.7 million NBC
8. Athens – 2004 19.8 million NBC