Photograph by Felipe Dana — AP

It was the lowest viewership number since the 1996 Atlanta games.

By Sy Mukherjee
August 8, 2016
August 08, 2016

Rio de Janeiro, host city of the 2016 Olympics, put on quite a show last Friday evening during the quadrennial event’s opening ceremony. Unfortunately, not that many people, relatively, saw it. In fact, far fewer people tuned in compared to the London games four years ago.

About 30 million Americans watched NBC’s coverage of the opening event between 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. EST, according to The Verge, putting viewership at a low that hasn’t been seen since the the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. For comparison, an estimated 41 million people watched the London opening ceremonies in 2012, and the total fall in viewers is estimated to be about 28%.

For comparison, roughly 112 million people watch the superbowl each year.

The ceremony itself received praise for pulling off a dazzling spectacle on a budget and for a show which highlighted Brazilian history and culture, the urgency of climate change, and even a special appearance from Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, wife of New England Patriots superstar Tom Brady.

But the sheer number of options for watching the Olympics this year is likely eating into NBC’s live audience numbers. In fact, the event produced a near-record 42 million streaming minutes.

Still, the games have been under-delivering by other metrics, too. Friday’s opening ceremony was the only sold-out event of the Rio Olympics as of Sunday. “We have sold 82% of the tickets we have available, 5 million tickets. We still have 1.1 million tickets to sell,” according to Olympic spokesman Mario Andrada. A number of prominent athletes, including world-class American golfers, have declined to attend this year’s Olympics over concerns about the Zika virus.

That helps explain why the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and NBC are trying to squeeze every minute of airtime they can. Broadcasters paid $1.2 billion to secure Olympics coverage rights, leading the IOC to ban media from releasing animated GIFs or Vine-like videos from the games.

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